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2016 Wisconsin eBird Year in Review

By Aaron Stutz January 19, 2017

Mississippi Kite ©Scott Weberpal

Wow!  Wisconsin eBirders finished 2016 with 344 species and 85,333 checklists.  Curious about new species added to the state checklist?  How about new species confirmed in year two of Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II?  Keep reading for the year’s birding highlights and a summary of the year’s eBird data.




The Birds of 2016…Continuing from 2015

Arguably the most exciting rarity of 2015, a Trempealeau County Lewis’s Woodpecker lingered until early February.

Lewis’s Woodpecker © Dan Belter

In the Superior Area, two Gyrfalcons were present with at least one remaining until late March.  The bird below, first banded in Duluth-Superior in 2003 set a longevity record for the species at 15 years and 8 months.

Gyrfalcon ©Peder Svingen

Rare Gulls Bring in the New Year

Gyrfalcons and a Minnesota Point Ivory Gull inspired birders to make travel plans for Duluth-Superior.  A dead Ivory Gull photographed and collected at Connors Point in Wisconsin, briefly put the travel plans of many on hold–until the Minnesota bird was found alive after the discovery of the remains of the Wisconsin bird.  There were two Ivory Gulls in the area!  Read more about this story here.

Once a significant rarity in most of the ABA Area, Slaty-backed Gull is now an expected rarity even in Wisconsin.  2016 records of this species came from Jefferson and Milwaukee Counties–both 2nd county records.

Slaty-backed Gull ©Cynthia Bridge

Strangest setting for a rare bird ever?  How about an Ivory Gull resting on a snowy trampoline near Red Cliff in far Northern Wisconsin.

Ivory Gull ©Ryan Brady

Ivory Gull ©Nick Anich

Ivory Gull ©Ryan Brady

Rare Spring Migrants

The first “spring” rarity was actually observed in February–a Black Vulture observed heading north with a group of Turkey Vultures in Madison.  This species has the potential to become a more regular component of Wisconsin’s Avifauna.  Black Vultures over-winter near Niagara Falls (latitude similar to Milwaukee) and are regular near Indianapolis.

Black Vulture ©Jessica Gorzo

Other spring rarities fell in the more typical May window.  Amongst them were a California Gull in Kenosha County:

California Gull ©John Dixon

Lark Bunting in Burnett County:

Lark Bunting ©K. Java

Wisconsin’s first ever Tropical Kingbird!

Tropical Kingbird ©Ryan Brady

Perhaps the “Bird of 2016” was this White-winged Tern found in Manitowoc.  Speaking to Wisconsin’s rich ornithological tradition this was not even a first state record–that honor belongs to a Jefferson County specimen secured by A.L. Kumlien in 1873.

White-winged Tern ©Joel Trick

Breeding Birds

2016 was Year 2 for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II.  Species confirmed breeding in 2016 include Mississippi Kite in Rock County…

Mississippi Kite ©Aaron Boone

…and Blue Grosbeak in Sauk County:

Blue Grosbeak ©Bill Grossmeyer

This young King Rail in September may have hatched at Horicon or it may have flown in from elsewhere.  This species is still only listed as “Possible” for WBBA II.

King Rail ©Cynthia Bridge

Summer Rarities

Summer is not typically the time to find many vagrants in Wisconsin.  That said, the Door Peninsula excels at trapping vagrants even during the breeding season.  Perhaps these rarities arrive in spring unnoticed and stay through the summer–finding they are nearly, or if they make it to Washington Island, completely surrounded by water.  Following a summer vagrancy pattern enhanced by Crested Caracara and Black Vulture in recent years, this year’s vagrant was a Swallow-tailed Kite.  This is the second Door County Record for this species–the previous record was from May 1982.

Swallow-tailed Kite ©Joel Trick

Fall Rarities

In September birders often turn their scopes to Lake Superior searching for pelagic specialties like jaegers and Sabine’s Gull.  While doing just that, Bill Grossmeyer snapped a few pictures of this Common Eider (pending acceptance by the WSO Records Committee).

Common Eider ©Bill Grossmeyer

Why do birders keen on spotting Sabine’s Gulls make the trip to Wisconsin Point?  Because typically (e.g. 2015) the range map for this species looks like this:

Sabine’s Gull Range Map 2015

2016 was far from typical for this species.  Inland birders had a chance at spotting this elegant gull on a local lake or river:

Sabine’s Gull Range Map 2016

On Lake Superior Sabine’s Gulls sightings are often little more than a pinpoint a mile away near the horizon.  This year with all the observations on inland bodies of water, birders were able to approach this species at closer range:

Sabine’s Gull ©Jack Swelstad

Imagine the surprise of a group of Racine Co. birders that spotted this Prairie Falcon pursuing a squirrel while conducting a Big Sit at Myers Park in late September!

Prairie Falcon ©Rita Flores Wiskowski

Another candidate for “Bird of the Year” was this Purple Gallinule routinely observed and photographed at a Juneau County wetland.

Purple Gallinule ©Joel Trick

Another rarity with stunning plumage and a new species for the State Checklist (Previously Wisconsin had a Hypothetical Record from 1965) is Painted Redstart.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are now nearly annual in Wisconsin.  The increasing population of this species in its core range along with a corresponding increase in digital photography, social media, and outreach by hummingbird banders mean fewer late fall hummingbirds go unidentified.  In 2016 Wisconsin’s only Anna’s Hummingbird was found in Milwaukee County.

Anna’s Hummingbird ©Lorri Howski

In recent years Common Eider sightings have atypically outnumbered those of King Eider.  In November a King Eider loafed off the Milwaukee Lakefront for several days allowing birders to observe it at their leisure.

King Eider.  Can you identify the other birds?   ©Lorri Howski

Want to see warblers in late October-December?  The best place to look is along the Lake Michigan Shoreline–a region with a strong pattern of vagrancy and record late birds.  This year a Townsend’s Warbler was the most notable late season warbler near the lake.

Townsend’s Warbler ©Jim Edlhuber

The final notable rarity of 2016 was a Black-legged Kittiwake in Green Bay.

Black-legged Kittiwake ©Jim Edlhuber


Eurasian Tree Sparrows…Here to Stay?  

Eurasian Tree Sparrow ©Ryan Brady

Last year we highlighted the increasing vagrancy of Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Wisconsin.  This trend continued into 2016 and early 2017.  It is likely just a matter of time before this species is a confirmed breeder.  Three birds observed in the extreme southwest corner of the state in early January of 2017 suggest breeding may already be in progress.

          *Sightings through 1/15/17. Includes 3 individuals in Grant Co.!

Species to Watch For…

What other species are expected in greater numbers?  Generalists and exotics are the trend.  Black Vultures and Mississippi Kite were discussed previously.  Great-tailed Grackles continue to march slowly eastward, in particular across Central Iowa.  Fish Crows are a stealth candidate for vagrancy–how closely do you examine crows in Southeast Wisconsin or along the Mississippi?  There is an isolated, but regularly observed population in Southwest Michigan.  The origins of these birds are likely from the east coast where Fish Crows range as far north as Maine.  Fish Crows are also routine along the Mississippi River as far north as Quincy, IL.  Keep your eyes and ears open for Fish Crows–Wisconsin has no records for this species!

Exotics and Feral Domestics…

One goal of eBird is to document the birds using the landscape.  This means we would like you to submit sightings of birds beyond those that are “countable” for your ABA or Wisconsin Checklist.  eBirders are encouraged to submit observations of escaped exotics (e.g. Monk Parakeet) and feral domestics (e.g. “Manky Mallards” at the local duck pond).  It is likely that eBird data will be the most useful tool to determine if various exotics are established.  The Wisconsin eBird Team has written a number of times about the burgeoning populations of nearly established Great Tits and European Goldfinches in Southeast Wisconsin.  What other species should birders watch for?  How about Monk Parakeet?

Monk Parakeet ©Drew Goldberg

Monk Parakeets have been breeding in the Chicago Area for decades, so they can survive our winters.  Breeding was also documented in Milwaukee in the 1980’s, but this population was unable to sustain itself.  In 2016 Monk Parakeets were eBirded in Racine and Milwaukee Counties.  Were these escaped pets or wandering birds from the Chicago population?  Only time and observations from eBirders will tell.

Birders also stumble upon Chukars and Helmeted Guineafowl.  Chukars are often released at game farms for hunting.  Helmeted Guineafowl are gaining in popularity on small farms–they eat ticks and weeds, and serve as an incredibly loud intruder alarm.  Both are far less likely to become established in Wisconsin than previously mentioned species, but the possibility does exist.  If you see these species, feral domestic birds,  or other exotics please submit them to eBird!

Helmeted Guineafowl on Washington Island ©Melody Walsh


The Numbers–2016 Checklist Data

Top 10 Counties – Most Checklists Submitted 2016 vs. 2015 vs. 2014

Note checklist data is down in almost all counties in 2016 vs. 2015.  2015 checklist data was inflated by a bulk uploads of 37,000+ checklists from Wisconsin’s first Breeding Bird Atlas and additional checklists from historical Wisconsin Society for Ornithology Records Committee Data.

Bottom 10 Counties – Most Checklists Submitted 2016 vs. 2015 vs. 2014

Total Number of Species Observed in 2016 by County

After years with the most checklists and species. Dane county came in second place to Milwaukee in 2016.

2016 County Leaders

We would like to highlight the efforts of just a few of the many dedicated eBirders out there!  Below are the 2016 county leaders by number of species and number of checklists.  All of this information is available via the Top 100 on the Explore Data tab.  Some of these totals are quite impressive while others call attention to areas of the state needing more coverage.


Top County Totals – Number of species 2015 (Threshold 200)

The 2016 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge (WLPC)

In 2016, 5 birders surpassed 200 or more species in their patches (versus 7 in 2015 and 2014).  For the third year in a row Tom Prestby topped the list!  For the uninitiated the Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge is a way to standardize patch birding.  Each patch is a 7.5 mile radius circle centered at the birders home.

Below are the 2016 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge Participants and their year totals (threshold 75 species):

You can read the 2015 Wisconsin eBird Year in Review here.

You can read the 2014 Wisconsin eBird Year in Review here.

Text, Charts and Tables by Aaron Stutz 

Text, Map and Editing by Nick Anich