Promoting the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds.

-By Carrie Becker and Lisa Gaumnitz- 


The snow may be flying, but Great Horned Owls are already sitting on eggs, defying the idea of creature comfort. Their breeding activity is spurring hundreds of volunteers to begin the fifth and final season of collecting data for a comprehensive, once-in-a-generation statewide breeding bird survey.

To energize these volunteers for the final push and to recruit new volunteers to help survey remaining priority areas, Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas organizers are convening a final season kickoff event April 5-7 at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center in Stevens Point. Advance registration is available until March 15 by visiting

“The kickoff is a great time for motivated volunteers to meet with county coordinators so we can all strategize on how to efficiently finish the remaining blocks,” says Nick Anich, WBBA II coordinator and conservation biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “The biggest remaining gaps are in northern and western Wisconsin, but there are still opportunities in every area of the state to help.”

For Atlas volunteers, timing is everything in attempting to document where, when and how many bird species breed across the entire state. Knowing when to look for each species is a key to success.

Great Horned Owls are the earliest of Wisconsin’s breeding birds; by the time the breeding season winds down in August, more than 225 other species will mate and raise young. Strategies regarding when and where to “atlas” will underscore the weekend, says Ryan Brady, WBBA II science coordinator and DNR biologist.

The Atlas splits Wisconsin into more than 6,800 blocks, and 1 in 6 of these blocks, 1,283 “priority blocks,” must be fully surveyed by late summer. After four years of data collection, about 15% of those blocks have seen little to no survey effort, while an additional 25% still need some work to be marked complete.

“It’s time for Wisconsin’s birdwatchers to step up in a big way,” says Brady. “Thousands of volunteers have contributed so far — we’ll need them and others more than ever in this fifth and final year of surveys.”

Only a statewide effort will reveal trends of which species are increasing or decreasing, information that will help inform the next generation of bird conservation.

At the kickoff, in addition to a job fair-style session with county coordinators, a full agenda including field trip opportunities will be offered throughout the weekend, beginning with an optional “Atlasing 101” session on Friday afternoon, and running through noon on Sunday. Topics include an overview of results to date, how-to tips for uncovering secretive species, and a Q & A session.

The keynoter will be Ian Davies, eBird project coordinator with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Data collection for WBBA II is handled through eBird, and Wisconsin was the first atlas project to use eBird in this way. Davies says the process that Wisconsin began has continued to snowball, with two other active eBird atlases (Virginia and Maine), with projects in New Zealand and New York launching in the next year.

Davies says Wisconsin volunteers have set a high bar for all future atlases and encourages more people to participate in 2019. “This is your last year to atlas in Wisconsin! Come out to meet new people and learn about one of the most fun ways to go birding,” he says.


--This is one of several timely articles in this month's Badger Birder newsletter; don't miss out on the latest birding and conservation news. Become a WSO member today!