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MADISON - Millions of migratory birds have flooded into Wisconsin in the last week and more are on their way, so bird lovers will want to grab their binoculars and get ready for the big show.

"The next two weeks are going to be awesome," says Ryan Brady, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and bird monitoring coordinator for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative. "Migration is catching up thanks to warm south winds. We're getting birds around the time they'd normally be here."

Brady uses web-based birding forums, the powerful eBird database, and other citizen-based observations to track bird movement patterns in Wisconsin and compile a weekly birding report emailed to subscribers every Thursday

Warm south winds in late April brought the first wave of Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and a remarkable 29 species of warblers to the state. "So far, the action has been heavily centered in southern Wisconsin but this is just the first wave for most migrants," Brady says. "There are plenty more to come in the next few weeks."

Wisconsin birders are fortunate to be located along major migration pathways, Wisconsin's Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River flyways. Records dating to the 1900s show that more than 350 different species of birds have been reported in Wisconsin in May.

State residents celebrate that bounty, with Wisconsin ranking second nationally in birdwatching participation. One-third, or 1.68 million Wisconsin residents 16 and older, watch birds, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Seeing favorites up close

Festivals across Wisconsin in coming weeks provide great opportunities for bird watching, as do birding hotspots identified in the five online Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail guides developed through the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, says Craig Thompson, a DNR conservation biologist and Neotropical migratory bird expert.

Bird lovers also can get prime viewing in their backyard as well, Thompson says. Migratory birds are attracted to native plants and to bird feeders. Find resources on adding native plants to benefit birds on the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative website.

"Keep your bird feeders out and have the hummingbird and grape jelly feeders ready as well," he says. Provide orange halves and jelly for Baltimore orioles, sunflower seeds for rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings, and sugar water for hummingbirds. Be sure to keep feeders clean and be mindful of bear activity in your area.

Such feeding is especially beneficial to these species given the late spring, he says. "In some places, the availability of insects is limited this year compared to a normal spring."

Hummingbirds, for instance, are arriving and in western Wisconsin, as of May 4 the Virginia bluebells and columbine they get nectar from were not even close to budding, Thompson says.

Festivals and events 

Find birding events at state parks and other properties on the DNR Get Outdoors calendar, and check the Bird City Wisconsin, community, nature center and local birding club websites for other events.

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