Winter Bird Walk


This tour is always listed as a “winter bird walk”, but by the last weekend in February most people are more interested in what early spring migrants have shown up. That is why in the tour description we usually mention a few of the first returning migrants that often arrive during the last week of February. Red-winged Blackbirds, Bluebirds, Robins and Sandhill Cranes, as well as a few others, are usually back in southern Wisconsin during the last week of February. As expected all of these species were reported as having been seen recently in Dane County when the question was asked at the monthly Madison Audubon meeting earlier this week. I have not heard of Red-winged Blackbirds or Sandhill Cranes showing up in the Arboretum this past week, but both have been seen flying in the Madison area. Who can tell if the Robins and less frequently seen Bluebirds in the Arboretum are returning migrants or some of the over-wintering birds? The increasing numbers of Robins, particularly in Galistel along the drainage stream on the east side, appear to be returning migrants.

The dozen to fifteen species commonly seen in Longenecker, Wingra Woods and Galistel Woods are the usual over-wintering birds including: Canada Goose & Mallard at the Big Springs; Downy, Hairy & Red-bellied Woodpeckers; Wild Turkey, Crow, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Robin, Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Cardinal, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

On my pre-flight walk on Saturday, with help from Chuck Henrikson, we also saw a Great Blue Heron, which has been hanging around the Big Springs for most of the winter, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over Longenecker and two Tufted Titmouse in the trees around the houses in the middle of the Arboretum. We felt lucky to see over 20 species yesterday with cool temperatures in the mid 20sF and a strong northwest wind.

Today with temperatures around 40 F and an even stronger, but south wind, we saw only eight species: Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers: Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch; Canada Geese & Mallard at Big Springs; Red-tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture. The Turkey Vulture is a first for the year. We had been discussing if Turkey Vultures were cold hardy enough, especially with their featherless heads, to be back in this below freezing weather. I guess they are.

So why such a difference of 20 species yesterday and only 8 species today? The two obvious factors are the earlier time of day, 8:00 to 10:00 am yesterday compared to 1:00 to 3:00 pm today and the much stronger wind today, even if it is warmer. It just goes to show you that even on a warmer, sunny day, you might only see 8 or so species, rather than the usual 12 to 15 species. There may be some logical factors that might explain this difference, but you may never know exactly why.

Levi Wood, Arboretum Naturalist

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.