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Wildlife and forestry research
Learn about wildlife and forestry research
Capturing Greater Prairie Chickens for DNA sampling.

Capturing Greater Prairie Chickens for DNA sampling.

Using radio telemetry to locate radio-collared Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Using radio telemetry to locate radio-collared Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Decoy Blue-winged Teal hen with wild drake.

Decoy Blue-winged Teal hen with wild drake.

Radio-collared male Spruce Grouse.

Radio-collared male Spruce Grouse.

Wildlife and forestry research - birds

Birds are a very important and highly visible part of the ecosystem, and bird watching is one of the fastest growing recreational activities. As a result, birds are important economically as well as ecologically. They are vital links in many food webs, and often serve as biological indicators of overall ecosystem health. In addition to these tangible benefits, healthy populations of birds enhance the quality of outdoor recreation, and are important pieces of the ecosystem.

Because of their place in many food chains, birds reflect how the health of the environment affects the health of the mammals, insects, and plants upon which they feed. Consequently, birds have been called "indicators", meaning that their presence and behavior in an area are indicators of the area's environmental health. For instance in the early 1960s, the sudden drop in the number of raptors in the U.S. first warned of the dangers of pesticides. It was discovered that the birds were accumulating the compounds, which caused them to lay eggs with thin shells that broke easily.

Birds also play important roles in the control of small mammals, insects and, perhaps more importantly, in the pollination and dispersal of flowering plants.

Wildlife and forestry researchers are currently involved with the following projects relating to bird research:

Game birds

Evaluating the impact of disease, habitat management treatments, dispersal barriers and genetic diversity and inbreeding on Sharp-tailed grouse populations in the Northwest Sands Ecological Landscape.

The overall goal of this project is to investigate the decline in sharp-tailed grouse lek counts by evaluating the impacts of disease, ring-necked pheasant interference, habitat management, habitat connectivity and genetic diversity on local reproductive success and survival at two managed properties in the Northwest Sands Ecological Landscape.

Project timeline: 2010 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Scott Hull

Analysis and implementation of population surveys and strategies for ring-necked pheasants at multiple scales in Wisconsin.

The six-year DNR fish, wildlife and habitat management plan (DNR 2007) calls for continuing to perform auditory and visual surveys of wildlife to support knowledge of wildlife trends, knowledge of wildlife responses to weather and land use changes, and models to predict population levels and set harvest quotas and permit levels. The upland wildlife program and the DNR pheasant committee have identified a number of issues with the current road-side pheasant survey. These issues merit a complete review and redesign of the statewide pheasant survey. The primary goal of this study is to initiate the development and implementation of field methodologies that will produce statistically valid population trend estimates for ring-necked pheasants that are robust to variation in detection rates associated with changing habitat conditions and observers at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Project timeline: 2011 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Scott Hull


An evaluation of the translocation of greater prairie-chickens from Minnesota to central Wisconsin

The overall goal of this project is to increase the genetic diversity of Wisconsin's prairie-chicken population by conducting, between 2006 and 2010, summer translocations of up to 250 greater prairie-chicken hens from northwest Minnesota to the Buena Vista Grassland Management Area in central Wisconsin. The study is a cooperative effort between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin - Madison, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, University of North Dakota - Fargo, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The project will specifically address the habitat use, reproductive success, and survival of the translocated birds, resident Wisconsin birds, and their offspring.

Project timeline: 2006 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: Scott Hull

A comparison of the relative abundance of eastern and western meadowlarks in southern Wisconsin in 1952-53 and 2003

This project repeated a 108 x 12 mile transect of meadowlark survey points across southern Wisconsin, conducted by Wesley Lanyon in 1952-53. At each section corner along the transect, the number of eastern and western meadowlarks was counted, and habitat data were recorded. This unique study will demonstrate the relationship between land use changes and changes in meadowlark populations over a 50-year time span. These results will aid in guiding land use planning to benefit meadowlarks and other declining grassland bird species.

Project timeline: 2002 - present

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

Grassland birds in Dane County, Wisconsin: 48 years of changes in rural land use and bird populations

This study consists of 48 years of data from grassland bird counts and land use surveys along 5 roadside routes in Dane County. During this period, some routes have remained rural in character, while others have become urbanized; agricultural land uses have also changed. This project will provide useful information to land use planners on how development patterns and rural land use impact declining grassland birds.

Project timeline: 1985 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientist: David Sample

Effects of houses and roads on abundance and productivity of breeding forest birds in the Baraboo Hills

The Baraboo Hills supports one of the most significant communities of forest-interior breeding birds in the midwest. Increasing development pressures apparently threaten this community yet little information exists for guiding development to minimize its effects. This study measures changes in bird populations and development since 1980 and documents the current relationships between bird abundance, breeding success, habitat composition, landscape pattern, and the density of and proximity to houses and roads. Results from this study will be provided to local and regional land use planning agencies and boards, landowners, land trusts and conservation agencies to help identify and minimize the effects of exurban development here and in other forested midwestern landscapes.

Project timeline: 2005 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Mike Mossman

Characterizing cerulean warbler distribution and habitat in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway

The state-threatened cerulean warbler is a species of conservation concern rangewide, and breeds in relatively high numbers in the Wisconsin Driftless Area, including the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway (LWSR). This study characterizes the local forest habitat, landscape patterns, and management histories of LWSR and nearby sites in which the species breeds, and tests models that have been proposed for its management. Results include a map of cerulean warbler distribution in the LWSR, a description of habitat and management factors that influence its occurrence, monitoring guidelines, and preliminary evaluations of existing management models.

Project timeline: 2010 - 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Mike Mossman

Spruce grouse habitat use in Wisconsin

Little was known about spruce grouse in Wisconsin until recent DNR work. We are examining fine-scale habitat use of radiocollared spruce grouse in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and on Vilas County Forest. We are also examining nest-site characteristics and landscape-scale factors that may influence occupancy of sites. These findings will be used to guide forest management and will shed light on potential impacts due to climate change.

Project timeline: 2006 - 2012, writing and analysis will continue into 2013

Lead DNR scientist: Nicholas Anich

Boreal bird surveys in northern Wisconsin

We are using targeted bird surveys to develop occupancy estimates and population estimates for spruce grouse, black-backed woodpecker, boreal chickadee, and gray jay in Wisconsin. These are all fairly rare, secretive species tied to boreal habitats, and we know little about their abundance or distribution. There is an important need for baseline data on these species, particularly because their favored conifer habitats will likely be affected by climate change.

Project timeline: 2011 - ongoing

Lead DNR scientists: Nicholas Anich, Mike Worland, and Karl Martin

Interspecific habitat selection of Golden-winged Warblers and Blue-winged Warblers in northern and central Wisconsin

Golden-winged warblers are a candidate species for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act and over 70% of the world's population of golden-winged warblers breed in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. We are assessing habitat requirements for golden-winged warblers and developing a multi-state management plan to conserve this declining species and prevent listing under the ESA.

Project timeline: 2008 - 2012

Lead DNR scientist: Karl Martin


Evaluating factors limiting Blue-winged Teal production and survival in the Great Lakes region

Blue-winged Teal were the most abundant breeding duck species in Wisconsin, but have declined 60% in the past 30 years for unknown reasons. We are using radio telemetry to estimate vital rates of survival and production to determine why the species is declining and discover ways to reverse the trend with habitat management.

Project timeline: 2006 - 2012

Lead DNR scientist: Ron Gatti

Last revised: Tuesday March 31 2015