Bird Migration

We get many people that come in with a fond memory of the skies being black with Canada Geese. Unfortunately, visitors will not see those numbers today. Back then, Canada Geese were being baited in with planted corn to try and get them to stop at Horicon Marsh. The plan worked great, and over 500,000 geese came through the area. However, with such large numbers, the potential for disease and destruction of property was too high. The geese were spread out into surrounding marshes to create a more sustainable population. Today, we typically still see 175-250,000 geese come through Horicon Marsh during fall migration.

Canada Geese by Jack Bartholmai

Fall waterbird migration typically peaks between the second week in October and second week in November.  The peak is dependent upon food availability, temperatures, and wind directions. Cool, crisp mornings with winds coming from the North will usually mean it will be a good day to see waterfowl coming into the marsh. Canada Geese are best seen within a couple of hours of sunrise and sunset; they head out to surrounding farm fields to browse during the day and head back into the marsh to roost at night.

Indigo Bunting by Jack Bartholmai

Spring waterbird migration tends to occur in March and April, depending on when the water opens up for foraging opportunities. The spring songbird migration peaks around the first and second weeks of May–again, depending on food availability and temperatures. A good day to view songbirds is one that has a decent wind coming from the South.

Planning a trip? Look at the radar before you come. Yes, it’s great to have beautiful 75 degree days, but the radar will also tell you if the birds are migrating. If there are large movements of birds, whether it’s waterfowl or songbirds, they’ll show up on the radar at night and early morning, like this:

“Bubbles” around Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and La Crosse are all migrating birds showing up on the radar. Photo from 9/18/17 from wunderground.com