The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas lists more than 200 confirmed and probable species of birds in the Wisconsin Rapids area. Of these, ten are on the federal or state endangered and threatened species lists.
Sandhill cranes are the most abundant of the world’s cranes. They are widely (though intermittently) distributed throughout North America, extending into Cuba and far northeastern Siberia.
Sandhill cranes are primarily birds of open fresh water wetlands, but the different subspecies utilize habitats that range from bogs, sedge meadows, and fens to open grasslands, pine savannas, and cultivated lands. Sandhill cranes occur at their highest breeding density in habitats that contain open sedge meadows in wetlands that are adjacent to short vegetation in uplands such as the cranberry bogs. Don’t be surprised to see several pairs standing on the side of our scenic roads during migration season.
The sandhill crane is a local favorite. The cranberry takes its name from Dutch and German settlers, who nicknamed it the “crane berry” after the shape of the blossoms. When the vines bloom in the late spring and the flowers’ light pink petals twist back, they resemble the head and bill of a crane. Over time, the name was shortened to cranberry.
The national emblem of the United States, the bald eagle was threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states because of DDT poisoning. Protection under the Endangered Species Act brought populations up, and the species was reclassified as Threatened in 1995. Although no longer on the endangered or threatened species list in Wisconsin, the bald eagle remains an important part of the state’s conservation efforts. There are now about 1,000 breeding pairs in the state. Popular Viewing Areas include Sandhill Wildlife Area, Meadow Valley Wildlife Area, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and along the Wisconsin River.
The tallest bird in North America, the whooping crane was once at the brink of extinction. It is making a steady recovery thanks to intensive management efforts in Canada and the United States. Since 2001, a number of whooping cranes have been reintroduced successfully and migrate along a well-defined corridor between central Wisconsin (including Necedah National Wildlife Refuge) and Florida.
Viewing opportunities at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge abound throughout late summer and fall as chicks are trained and prepared for migration in the fall. Check the Calendar of Events for the latest information.
The trumpeter swan is North America’s largest waterfowl and one of its rarest native birds. To many people, it is the embodiment of grace, beauty, and unspoiled wildness. It is also an inspiring reminder that we can save some species that have been reduced to near extinction. In 1987, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with a variety of organizations and individuals, began implementing a trumpeter swan recovery plan for the state.
Following an ambitious program of collecting eggs in Alaska for nine years and raising cygnets in captivity and in the wild, approximately 500 free-flying trumpeter swans now grace Wisconsin wetlands, several of which breed in the marshes of the area. These birds will most likely be found at Meadow Valley Wildlife Area, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, or on private lands such as Glacial Lake Cranberries.
The Acadian flycatcher is usually first noticed by its explosive “peet-sah” or “hick-up” call. It is the largest and greenest of the North American Empidonax flycatchers, and has the largest bill. Still, it is best distinguished from its congeners by its call. Populations nationwide appear stable, but are low in Wisconsin because of its need for large tracts of mature wet and/or mesic forests, though it can occur in dry forests of varying sizes. Viewing Areas include the Black River State Forest, in nearby Juneau County.
A small bird of mature deciduous forests, the sky-blue cerulean warbler is hard to see. It nests and forages higher in the canopy than most other warblers.
Cerulean Warbler is one of the species of highest concern in the eastern and central United States because of a small total population size and significant declines throughout its range. Currently listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin, the cerulean warbler is under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Ceruleans may sometimes be found along the Yellow River.
The Wiscoinsin Rapids area is home to the greater prairie chicken, a bird that is rare in Wisconsin and is celebrated by birders throughout the Midwest. The annual Prairie Chicken Festival in April is a testament to the importance of this bird in the region.
Greater prairie-chickens are unique to the grasslands of North America and are found nowhere else. These birds were once abundant in the New World and widely hunted for food and sport. Farm activity and small settlements began to push westward into the prairies and plains of middle America which changed the grasslands. The birds benefited from the landscape changes from logging and early farm practices. However, the amount of open grasslands they needed decreased, and market hunting practices were too destructive. This significant loss was noted in the 1850s and Wisconsin game laws were set to limit the open season for prairie chickens. Eventually, populations became too small for hunting as the prairie chicken range was narrowed to central Wisconsin.
Today, the prairie chicken’s range is limited to a carefully managed grassland areas in the Wisconsin Rapids area, including the premier Buena Vista Wildlife Area, which totals more than 11,000 acres. Visit the Birdwatching Areas page[link to the Birdwatching Areas page} for more information and be sure to check the Calendar of Events for viewing opportunities during the April mating season.
An uncommon and famously inconspicuous bird, the Henslow’s sparrow breeds in weedy grasslands of the east-central United States. The Henslow’s prefers tall and moderately tall dense, grass-dominated habitats with tall-standing residual vegetation and a dense litter layer in spring. Its population numbers have declined steadily over the past few decades, largely because of habitat loss.
The U.S. population of this uncommon and locally distributed species has declined more than 68% from 1966-1991. Henslow’s Sparrow has been identified as the highest priority for grassland bird conservation in eastern and Midwestern North America by Partners in Flight (PIF), a cooperative effort of many organizations dedicated to bird conservation. The George W. Mead Wildlife Area has confirmed Henslow’s sparrows in residence, and the entire mosaic of publicly and privately owned grasslands between Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids south to northeastern Adams County contains the state’s largest population of Henslow’s sparrow.
One of the largest birds of prey in North America, the osprey eats almost exclusively fish. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica.
Ospreys never were numerous in Wisconsin, but they nested in suitable habitat throughout the state. Populations in Wisconsin and across the U.S. began to decline in the 1950s, largely due to the adverse impacts of organochlorine pesticides like DDT. The osprey was listed as a state threatened species in 1972. After the ban on DDT, populations increased rapidly. There are now over 400 breeding pairs of osprey in Wisconsin, but habitat concerns, predation, and low nesting success in some parts of the state keep the osprey listed as a threatened species in the state. Try Sandhill Wildlife Area, Meadow Valley Wildlife Area, the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, or north of Biron on the Wisconsin River to catch a glimpse of the osprey.
The primary problem facing this species is loss of habitat. Since European settlement in the 17th century, and especially since the 19th century, the favored closed-canopy forests have been cut for logging, agriculture, and urban development.
Disturbances from humans have pushed some Red-Shouldered Hawks into large, often remote areas. Although some members of this species seem to be unaffected by humans, most are secretive and avoid inhabited areas. The Red-Shouldered Hawk is listed as a threatened species in Wisconsin. Red-shouldered Hawks may be seen or heard along undisturbed tracts of the Yellow River, middle portions of the Wisconsin River, and in the Black River State Forest.