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Winter Birdwatching In Wisconsin

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Courtesy of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
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Wind Chill McCloud, a resident Snowy Owl at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

Editor's note: This piece was originally published Jan. 12, 2018.

As winter descends on Wisconsin and the cold sets in, our fair-weather - and fair-feathered - friends often take an extended vacation down south. But as many of Wisconsin’s birds leave for warmer weather, another group of birds begin to make their home in frost-laden forests and prairies around the state.

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Credit Courtesy of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Wind Chill McCloud, a resident Snowy Owl at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

"We do notice the lack of birds as they migrate south, but for some birds Wisconsin is south for them. And so yeah, they come down here, they can be seen at our bird feeders, they can be seen in big fields," says Lindsay Obermeier, manager of the Raptor Program at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

There are a variety of birds that make Wisconsin their winter home including Purple Finches, Redpolls, and Northern Harriers. But perhaps the most noticeable this year is the snowy owl. 

"We are in the middle of a very large eruption year for Snowy Owls," says Obermeier. 

She explains, "It is actually tied to a high food availability during the breeding season in the Arctic. So this past summer snowy owls had a lot of food up there. They really like to eat lemmings, which are a small rodent. So, there were a lot of lemmings, which means the adult breeding Snowies were able to produce more chicks.

"So, what happens then, when it's winter time like now, those first-year birds have to leave because there's no territory for them to find food. So they will come and visit us here in Wisconsin." 

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect. Before then, she was a director and producer for Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm Chicago Public Radio.