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July 10, 2012

Wildlife managers put out the welcome mat at a dozen wildlife areas

MADISON -- Migratory birds are returning to Wisconsin from their Arctic summer homes for a good mud bath and a few good meals -- courtesy of state wildlife biologists and partners -- before taking to the skies again.

Red knot
A red knot is a shore bird that is rare in Wisconsin, but some lucky birder just may see it.
Ryan Brady Photo

Their stopover in the Badger state is critical for the birds - some of which will fly thousands of miles before they're done -- and a great opportunity for birders, state wildlife officials say.

"Arctic/boreal nesting shorebirds are starting to wing their way south and will be stopping over in Wisconsin in the next six weeks," says Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist. "It's a good birding opportunity and a good opportunity for birders to give back.

"We need people to report what they see and we encourage birders to buy a waterfowl habitat stamp to help pay for continuing important work to create habitat for migrating shorebirds."

DNR and partners work to provide stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds on more than a dozen wildlife management areas and other public lands across the state. An interactive map on Wisconsin eBird (exit DNR) shows the location of state lands where the partners manage water levels to create the exposed mudflats and shallow water the birds need.

Migratory shorebirds need such habitat from May through September as they travel to and from their breeding areas in the arctic and boreal forests, oftentimes completing journeys of 8,000 miles or more.

"The sheer amount of travel these shorebirds do requires them to build large fat stores at stopover areas," says Jason Fleener, assistant wetland habitat specialist. "Some of these birds might spend anywhere from three days to a week in one location and may increase their body weight by 50 to 100 percent."

Shorebirds forage in mud and shallow water, looking for small invertebrates attracted to the decaying and live plant material in shallow wetlands.

DNR wildlife biologists provide exposed shorelines and shallow water habitats by opening water control structures on public lands beginning in late April - early May to slowly reduce water levels in impoundments.

The goal is to expose new mudflats every week based on recent weather conditions and precipitation amounts. Mudflats also can be created naturally during dry periods as wetlands evaporate.

"By the end of summer, the water level management results in large, expansive mudflats and a flush of new annual plant growth," Fleener says.

An important benefit of this management is the large volume of seeds produced by these annual plants. These seeds are consumed en masse by waterfowl, wetland birds and sparrows during fall migration after many of the shorebirds are long gone. In addition, this water level management helps to regenerate bulrushes and other emergent plants that grebes, coots, rails, ducks and other wetland dependent species use for nesting habitat the following years.

Unseasonably dry weather in southern Wisconsin is creating natural mud conditions in many areas in the absence of water level manipulations by managers. Some sites that were wet in the spring may be too dry to attract shorebirds during the summer migration. DNR staff will update the interactive map regularly to account for changing conditions and additional viewing opportunities generated by the drought, Paulios says.

He says that while the shorebirds benefit tremendously from the mudflats and the food they provide, the public benefits as well.

The habitat work is paid for largely through hunter licenses and waterfowl habitat stamp fees. "If you value this type of habitat management birding opportunity, consider purchasing a waterfowl habitat stamp. Until then, enjoy the birds!"

2012 Wisconsin Waterfowl Stamp
2012 Wisconsin Waterfowl Stamp

"These wildlife areas are wonderful places to view the grand migration event," he says. "Most of these wildlife management areas have walking trails and parking areas that allow birders to view shorebirds and other water birds as they exploit these new food resources."

Birders can report the species and number of shorebirds they see on Wisconsin eBird. [

"Contributions to the Wisconsin waterfowl habitat fund can be made by purchasing the $7 State Waterfowl stamp privilege at any authorized license agent; over the internet through the Online Licensing Center on the DNR website,; or by calling telephone sales at 1-877-LICENSE (1-877-945-4236). If you wish to receive the actual Wisconsin waterfowl collector stamp as part of your contribution, place an order on-line from and use the search words, "Collector Stamps" or visit a DNR service center. To find the nearest service center, call the DNR call center at 1-888-936-7463. (1-888-WDNR-INFo)."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jason Fleener - 608-264-7408; Andy Paulios - 608-264-6137

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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