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For information on Year of the Bird, contact:
Ryan Brady
Research scientist
(715) 685-2933

Year of the Bird

2018 Year of the Bird

Wisconsin joins the nation to commemorate 100 years of bird conservation both within and across state borders. We hope you will join us in celebrating, whether by attending a bird conservation event, volunteering, helping birds [PDF] in your area or spending some time birding on Wisconsin's scenic public lands.

Year of the Bird upcoming events

There's still time to take part in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon [exit DNR]! Team up and start birding or donate to the cause by June 15!

Calling all artists! Entries are wanted for the 2019 waterfowl, turkey and pheasant stamp contests.

Why protect birds?

People love birds! Whether it's hunters pursuing woodcock, ducks, or turkeys in the fall, birders eager for a glimpse of colorful warblers in the spring, or a child fascinated by chickadees and cardinals at a feeder right outside the window, birds provide rich and varied recreational opportunities for millions of people. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 2.6 million hunters pursued migratory birds and 46.7 million people observed birds in the United States. However, birds are also invaluable to the environment and human society.

Birds add value to our world.

Bohemian waxwing seed dispersalEcosystem services such as pollination, insect and rodent control, nutrient cycling (especially through scavenging) and seed dispersal keep the environment healthy.

Birds are bio-sentinels.

Yellow-crowned night heronBecause birds are highly ecologically diverse, visible and easy to study, they serve as excellent indicators of the overall health of the environment.

Birds are economically important.

Bird huntingHunting and watching birds contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and the ecosystem services birds provide are worth billions of dollars in savings.

Birds are deeply engrained in human culture.

Bald eagleThey are culturally and spiritually significant, and serve as symbols in art, music, sports, literature, politics, religion and folklore.

Birds connect us with nature.

Northern parulaWith a flash of color, a graceful flight and a chorus of song at dawn, birds are with us wherever we go, no matter the season.

We need birds, and birds need our help.

Canada geeseA variety of threats, including habitat loss, invasive species, collisions and pollution, have caused steep population declines for many species of birds.




Most of our Wisconsin birds are migratory: they arrive in the spring and stay for the summer breeding season, then leave in the fall to spend the winter in other states or countries to the south. These migratory birds face unique challenges. Habitat loss affects them not only on the breeding grounds but also on wintering sites and along the migration route where birds stop to rest and feed. Loss of these habitats can directly impact a bird's chances of survival; this has caused a decline in a number of bird populations. Fortunately, habitat conservation has positive impacts on birds while also enhancing the quality of the environment for people.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

2018 marks 100 years of protection for birds under the United States’ Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Act actually implements an international agreement known as the Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Canada (and later Russia, Mexico and Japan), which was signed in 1916. The treaty formally recognized that migratory bird conservation requires cooperation across international borders, outlining conditions for a unified conservation strategy between the two countries. These protections could not have come at a more critical time for birds, and continue to provide a framework for conservation.

Most of our Wisconsin birds are migratory: they arrive in the spring and stay for the summer breeding season, then leave in the fall to spend the winter in other states or countries to the south. These migratory birds face unique challenges. Habitat loss affects them not only on the breeding grounds but also on wintering sites and along the migration route where birds stop to rest and feed. Loss of these habitats can directly impact a bird's chances of survival; this has caused a decline in a number of bird populations. Fortunately, habitat conservation has positive impacts on birds while also enhancing the quality of the environment for people.

During the 19th century, unregulated hunting for the market and women's fashion, combined with rapid habitat conversion to accommodate expanding human settlements, decimated wild bird populations. In 1881 alone, over one million birds were killed in Wisconsin to supply the hat trade (Gjestson 2013). In response, fledgling conservation groups began to push for legislation to protect birds.

Source: David L. Gjestson, The Gamekeepers: Wisconsin Wildlife Conservation from WCD to CWD, 2013).
Some rare birds of Wisconsin, 1912 Early state protections
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Upland Plover
  • American White Pelican
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Bald Eagle
  • Common Tern
  • Northern Hairy Woodpecker
  • Wood Duck
  • Snowy Heron
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Grebe

By 1900, these birds were extinct in Wisconsin:

  • Carolina Parakeet
  • Wild Turkey*
  • Whooping Crane*
  • Trumpeter Swan*
  • Passenger Pigeon

*Reintroduced

  • 1851: Wisconsin passes its first game management laws, establishing a closed season for certain migratory game birds.
  • 1867: Law protects most game bird nests and eggs from human disturbance.
  • 1877: "Insect-eating" non-game birds and their eggs protected statewide.
  • 1887: Illegal to shoot harmless birds for the hat trade.
  • 1898: Three laws passed to protect game and non-game migratory birds statewide.
  • 1909: Spring waterfowl season is closed statewide for the first time.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act [exit DNR], passed in 1918 to implement the Migratory Bird Treaty agreement between the U.S. and Canada, is one of the most well-known bird protection laws in the United States. It regulates the ability to "[...] pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export [...]" most birds in the United States. In an age of dramatic population declines across multiple bird species, such protections were quite comprehensive, aiming to address all human activities that negatively impact birds.

Today, as during the early 1900s, people cannot "take" any bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or any nests, eggs or parts (including feathers) without an appropriate permit. While these rules may seem strict, they help ensure that healthy populations of migratory birds remain well into the future.

The Year of the Bird in Wisconsin

Organizations including National Geographic, the Audubon Society, BirdLife International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have partnered to designate 2018 as the Year of the Bird in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Year of the Bird celebrates the diversity and value of the avian world and looks ahead to the next 100 years of conservation. The Year of the Bird highlights three key themes:

  • Birds are global indicators of biodiversity and the earth’s annual cycle, and provide a meaningful connection to the natural world.
  • Partnerships, including conservation organizations, community groups, schools, families and individuals, can unite for the common purpose of conservation.
  • Even after 100 years of Migratory Bird Treaty Act protection, birds still face significant threats and need our help.

Learn more: National Geographic's Year of the Bird [exit DNR]

Bird conservation in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has the second highest birding participation rate by state residents in the country (33%), behind only Vermont (39%).


Wisconsin has implemented a variety of bird conservation strategies [PDF] over the years.

These are just a few of Wisconsin's ongoing bird conservation activities.

  • 2015 marked the first of five years of data collection for Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II [exit DNR], the most comprehensive bird survey in state history. WBBA II provides critical information on breeding distribution, abundance and population change in more than 225 bird species.
  • The DNR's wildlife health program monitors migratory birds for numerous environmental stressors to help keep birds healthy.
  • The department conducts short- and long-term research on game and non-game birds and waterfowl.
  • The Glacial Habitat Restoration Area is a landscape-level approach to habitat conservation. Focusing on providing grassland and wetland habitats for game and non-game birds and other wildlife, mainly in southern Wisconsin, this program also allows hunting and birding on enrolled properties.
  • State Wildlife Areas are managed to sustain wildlife habitat while providing recreational opportunities for the public. Wildlife areas help protect valuable nesting and foraging habitat that may harbor uncommon species such as the cerulean warbler and yellow-crowned night heron.
Get involved

Whether you want to help improve bird habitat, assist with citizen science efforts or simply learn more about bird-related recreation, it's easy to get involved in bird conservation.

Last revised: Wednesday June 06 2018