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Breeding Birds and Summer MothersGet to Know Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond

Help birds and make 'em count

Love watching birds and want to keep them singing outside your window well into the future?

Join thousands of Wisconsin bird lovers in volunteering for the biggest bird survey ever in our state, the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II. Your information will help steer bird conservation for the next generation.

Help birds at your home

Plant native trees and shrubs, provide fresh water, put out feeders and take other simple steps to help birds. Learn more from the Wisconsin Bird Stopover Initiative.

Donate to help birds

Make a direct and immediate impact on birds. Donate to the Wisconsin Bird Protection fund, managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, to fund bird conservation projects prioritized by DNR and partners. Or give to benefit a single species.

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 11 photos
View the slideshow of Wisconsin breeding birds.

Summer is for the birds!

Summer is a great time to see birds in Wisconsin and a prime time for joining other volunteers in our comprehensive bird survey just getting started. Our goal is to see which of the 400 bird species historically recorded here nest in our state and how their populations have changed over the past 20 years.

Aside from shorebirds, most birds you see here in June and July are birds that nest in Wisconsin, so volunteers don't have to sort out which are migratory birds headed to or from Canadian nesting grounds. Understanding the places these birds frequent, the habitats they use and the times of year in which they raise young are critical to conserving the birds that call Wisconsin home.

How are our birds doing?

Healthy bird populations depend on healthy habitat. In North America and Wisconsin, many wetland birds are showing strong gains and grassland bird populations are improving. Anecdotal information and smaller surveys, however, suggest many species need serious attention. Habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, environmental pollutants and environmental stressors are main factors affecting bird survival.

About one-third of Wisconsin's birds have low and/or declining populations, including 11 formally listed as endangered and 13 as threatened species.

Where to see birds

Birds are our most accessible wildlife. They are everywhere and they are important to our quality of life, our ecosystems and our economy. Fully 1 in 3 adults reports bird watching and most birds are voracious insect eaters at some time in their lives, helping keep agricultural and forest pests in check.

Explore these resources to help you find birds beyond your backyard.

Summer mothers

The bulk of birds nesting in Wisconsin in summer are songbirds. They are part of a massive order of birds called Passeriformes. Let's learn more about this diverse, ubiquitous group, courtesy of All About Birds and The Golden Guide's Bird of North America.

  • Their rapid evolution and adaptation to virtually all land environments resulted in a large number of species.
  • Birds of this order, known as passerines, include more than half of all bird species. There are some 5,700 passerines, compared with only about 4,069 species of all other birds.
  • These diverse birds share the same arrangement of their toes - three forward, one backward -- which helps them perch on vertical surfaces, such as trees and cliffs.

Size and songs

  • Passerines are small to medium-sized land birds. Most range from about 5 to 8 inches in overall length. Some species, like the ribbon-tailed bird of paradise, extends up to 46 inches because of its extremely long tail feathers.
  • Most passerine species weigh between 0.5 to 1 ounce.
  • Songbirds have, you guessed it, a complex variety of songs and sounds. Songs are typically the most complex vocalization of a bird's repertoire.
  • Birds from particular areas may have distinctive songs, just as people sometimes have regional accents.
  • Some bird sounds are not vocal: woodpeckers rap and several species have specialized feathers and behavior designed to send an audible message.


  • Most passerines eat insects, at least at certain times of their lives. Members of the order have evolved many ways for finding insects -- some catch insects on the fly, others glean insects from small twigs and leaves; still others scratch on the ground and in leaf litter.
  • More-specialized passerines eat aquatic insects, fruit, leaves, nectar, small land vertebrates and seeds. They have developed different bills and feet to help them feed.


  • Passerines lay clutches of 1 to 14 eggs, clutch size being unrelated to the size of the bird.
  • Males of most species help feed the young. Some passerines have only one nest per breeding season, but others may have two or more, especially if one nest is destroyed before the young fledge.
  • The incubation period generally varies from 11 to 21 days depending on the species. The hatchlings are typically blind, sparsely covered with down, and helpless.
  • The young remain in the nest for 8 to 30 or 35 days but most commonly from 10 to 15 days. After they learn to fly, it's still days or sometimes weeks because they are independent from their parents.

More bird resources

The Internet's made it much easier to identify birds and learn more about their biology, habitat, and life cycles, as well as to watch video of them and hear their calls and songs. Try these: