Birds of Wisconsin

Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2021 Recap

The Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls set a new personal record for this year’s Great Wisconsin Birdathon by finding 102 species in one day at Schlitz Audubon!

Great Wisconsin Birdathon Basics

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. The Great Wisconsin Birdathon is essentially a walkathon, but instead of counting miles, bird species are tallied, and money is raised to support conservation efforts around the state. 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. It’s a fun challenge to see how many species you can collectively see at the place you work!

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

The Schlitz Audubon Screech Owls team is made up of Michelle Allison, Carrie Becker, and myself! We are all staff members at the Center, and are enthusiastic birders in our spare time. And we picked an incredible day to complete our birdathon, surpassing our goal of observing 100 species!

Bay-breasted Warbler photographed from the tower.

We split up the Center into three main areas for each of us to thoroughly cover and started birding between 6:30am-7:00am, and were out on the trails for the entire morning until lunch. The first bird I heard singing, as I was pulling in along the entrance road, was a Wood Thrush, one of my favorite bird songs. Next I heard a Wilson’s Warbler, so I had a feeling it was going to be an excellent morning. It took me about 45 minutes to walk .25 miles as I got out of my car, simply because of the overwhelming number of songs and birds I was trying to sift through to identify in the parking lot area. Carrie noted a larger than usual number of Wilson’s Warblers, and was able to identify a Hooded Warbler first by song. A win because that means those birdsong recordings are finally sinking in! She was also excited to see a red-headed woodpecker, a personal favorite sign of spring.

Michelle had a great morning as well and summed up her experience by saying, “I was amazed by the groupings of warblers that seemed to come through on the wind. All of a sudden there would be a big flock moving from one tree to another. There were a ton of American Redstarts and Blackburnians. I also found a lot of flycatchers, of many species. The biggest highlight was a male Scarlet Tanager singing out in the open, just a little above eye level. I was enjoying his song and noticed the female preening on a nearby branch. It made me happy to see them both and it didn’t seem to bother them that I was there.” And because birding all morning wasn’t enough for her, Michelle came back to the Center in the evening on the same day to do a frog survey, but ended up adding two more species to our list, the Barred Owl, and American Woodcock!

Overall, we had 23 warbler species including the incredibly elusive Connecticut Warbler, which I was particularly thrilled to find and was the highlight for my morning. The variety of warblers was exciting! Collectively, we got some great looks at quite a few Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Canada Warbler throughout the birdathon.

Mourning Warbler peeking out from a thicket for a brief moment.

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!