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April 28, 2015

MADISON - Birdwatchers and outdoors lovers should get ready for the bright colors, melodic songs and chip-chipping of Wisconsin's long distance migrant warblers, who will soon return home from their warm winter haunts. The parade of songbirds gives downstate birdwatchers a few weeks of sensory thrills before many of these tiny warblers settle into their nests in the Northwoods and Canada's boreal forest.

"The yellow rumped warbler is usually the first to return. It's a short-distance migrant--it spends its winters in the southern U.S. or Mexico--and they are already being reported pretty much statewide," says Kim Grveles, coordinator of the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative.

"Blackburnian warblers make a 2,500-mile migration from Central and South America and they are already in southern Illinois, so I expect they will be here any day now, along with a parade of other birds. "

Grveles says that for long-distance migrants such as the Blackburnian warbler, increasing length of daylight drives their hormones and desire to come back.

There are 56 warbler species in the United States and Canada, and Wisconsin is home to more than 30 species of these showy songbirds. Most warblers are considered Neotropical migrants, birds that fly to Central and South America in the fall and spend winter there before returning to Wisconsin and other parts of North America in the spring.

This spring, warblers have been making news for their migrations. A Kirtland's warbler that hatched in Wisconsin in 2014 was sighted in the Bahamas earlier this month, a rare fine for researchers and an impressive feat of flight for the bird, which weighs well under an ounce and would have flown more than 1,500 miles to reach the beach.

A study published in Biology Letters on March 31 reported that miniature backpack trackers attached to some blackpoll warblers recorded their flights and found that last year, the birds made a 1,700 mile, nonstop three-day journey over the Atlantic Ocean.

Grveles says the warblers returning to Wisconsin typically will be seen in the southern two-thirds of the state for a few weeks in May, refueling here after their long flights. Many species nest in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada, although southern Wisconsin is home to a smaller suite of species including such rare southern forest dwellers as cerulean, prothonotary, and hooded warblers.

"There is an incredible richness of songbird species in this state, and with luck and looking in the right habitat, you can see these fascinating birds," Grveles says.

A new Warblers put a song in our hearts feature page on the DNR website shares photos about more than a dozen different warblers found in Wisconsin, from the common, like the yellow-rumped warbler, to the rare: Wisconsin is home to the federally endangered Kirtland's warbler and to 20 percent of the world's population of golden-winged warblers. The web feature also provides information about warbler biology and habitat and where to look for the songbirds.

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 7 photos

View the slideshow on warblers.

Where to see warblers

Ryan Brady, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who coordinates monitoring for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, says that people can attract warblers to their yards if they have native trees and shrubs that provide insects for the warblers to eat.

"Warblers are mostly insect-eaters, so they'll be attracted to native plants that produce insects. The bird seed we put out for our favorite backyard birds like chickadees and cardinals won't do the trick," he says. "Offer the warblers a water source, whether it's a fountain or a small backyard pond so they can drink and bathe, and perhaps find a hatch of insects."

Most warblers forage and nest in woodland habitats. Even smaller woodlots in your yard or at a local park can be good for some species, with oaks and sunlit edges of forests where insects are active being very popular with the birds, Brady says. The birds also can be seen near water sources, and shrubby or forested pond edges, especially on cooler days.

Other good opportunities to see warblers include some of the 20-plus field trips this May offered through the Great Wisconsin Birdathon. (exit DNR). These tours range from a few hours to two days and the fees are tax-deductible contributions to the Wisconsin Bird Protection Fund, a critical source of funding for priority bird and habitat conservation projects in Wisconsin.

Finally, Brady and other DNR bird experts answered questions online about spring birding opportunities on April 28. Read the transcript from that chat at your leisure by going to the DNR website,, and searching for "Ask the Experts" and looking for the Spring Bird Migration link on the right.

International Migratory Bird Day events, live chat transcript offer more options

Scores of communities recognized for their bird-friendly ways through the Bird City Wisconsin program will be hosting bird festivals on or around May 9. That's the day recognized globally as International Migratory Bird Day, and many birding organizations will be hosting events as well.

Search the DNR website,, for keyword "birding," for information on birding in Wisconsin's and bird conservation and links to many of these sites and the Bird City Wisconsin calendar of events.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ryan Brady, 715-685-2933; Kim Grveles, 608-264-8594

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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