Birds of Wisconsin, Conservation

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon

Each spring birders around the state flock together to support bird conservation by participating in the  Great Wisconsin Birdathon. Since 2012, teams and individuals have been participating in this fun tradition that relies on birders doing what they love—birding—while raising money for conservation.

Great Wisconsin Birdathon Basics

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is essentially a walkathon, but instead of counting miles, bird species are tallied, and money is raised! Teams or individuals pick one day each spring migration as their “birdathon day.” The goal is to set a fundraising target and find as many species as possible within that 24 hour period. Some teams will bird a majority of that 24 hours, starting in the dark to listen for owl and other nocturnal species, and don’t set their binoculars down until after the sun has set. These teams of marathon birders will make huge goals of finding 175 species or more, will raise thousands of dollars, and travel around the state to hotspots and natural areas to meet their goal.

Other teams, while having just as much fun, may set smaller species and fundraising goals, and choose to bird in one location, as our team, the Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls did. Because of the pandemic this year, all teams had to get creative in how to carry out the birdathon. Teams that would usually do the birdathon together, are choosing to split up and take different routes. Some teams are also delaying their birdathon day until later in the year, as this year’s event was extended to October 15.

Supporting Bird Conservation

Money raised from the Great Wisconsin Birdathon goes to the Bird Protection Fund, a joint effort by The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Wisconsin DNR, and the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership. Projects that have been supported through this fund; include Bird City Wisconsin, Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, and Kirtland Warbler Conservation, to name a few. The Bird Protection Fund also gives grants to organizations and projects that further bird conservation, and Schlitz Audubon has received such grants in the past.

Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls

Our team, the Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls, included Michelle Allison, Carrie Becker, and myself! We are all staff members at the Center, and are enthusiastic birders in our spare time. To take precautions this year, we each birded a section of the Center grounds individually on Thursday, May 21. The weather was gorgeous, and the birds were spectacular!

We began our birdathon morning around 6:15am, each heading out in separate directions on our 185 acres. Before even leaving the parking lot to head to the Lake Terrace, I was up to 30 species by 6:45am! Overall, we counted 89 species, including 23 warbler species. My first species of the day was hearing the distinct “bee buzzzz” of the Blue-winged Warbler as I was entering the Center’s gate, a great way to start a birdathon! A single Golden-winged, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warbler were also found. There were large numbers of Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, and Yellow Warblers, each species incredibly vocal throughout the morning.

great wisconsin birdathon

Chestnut-sided Warbler


Other notable species included a singing Black-billed Cuckoo, a perched Red-tailed Hawk, and a Yellow-throated Vireo. Carrie and I each had great looks at two separate Scarlet Tanager, and Carrie enjoyed observing the unique-looking Blue-headed Vireo with its white spectacles. Michelle had the amazing experience of finding a perched Barred Owl and watching it fly!

The Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls had a great morning birding while also supporting bird conservation! If you would like to support our efforts, we are still working towards our fundraising goal, and half of what we raise will come back to directly benefit Schlitz Audubon. We hope you enjoy these last days of spring migration!