Birding offers therapy for long winter season

posted Feb. 12, 2018 8:04 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jerry Davis | Correspondent

  • jd_CT_robins_021418-1
    Robins are always spring tonic even when seen in bubbling springs in February.
  • jd_CT_larks_021418
    Horned larks are common roadside birds where they pick up tiny stones.
  • jd_CT_turkeys_021418-2
    What turkey gobblers lack in color, they make up in size and sounds.

Observing nature’s avian entities could be therapeutic to novice naturalists trying to abet Wisconsin’s quandary of deciding between winter and spring.

Now is an ideal time to search for birds, according to Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Dave Matheys in Vernon County.

“There aren’t oodles of bird species here right now,” he said. “Those who need to identify everything they hear or see don’t have to deal with warblers and birds concealed by leaves in the treetops.”

There are fewer species now and fewer birds, too. But there’s still plenty to challenge the most absorbing person.

“Human competition is down, too,” he said. “Other than skiers, snowmobilers and hikers, birders have most areas to themselves. And even some of those folks are limited by a need for more snow.”

Anyone who has been out on a bluebird spring day and scanned a forest canopy for the location of a bird’s song knows full well birds can hide and sing at the same time.

However, the disadvantage of leaf cover absence is birders are easier for birds to see.

“Skin tones on hands and faces are easy for most animals to pick out,” Matheys said. “Even though light gloves and face masks are not necessary weather-wise, they are helpful in camouflaging us from the birds.”

Those outdoors people who don’t want to be seen or heard almost always wear a face mask. Ask any squirrel, turkey, deer and duck hunter. Serious birders should follow their leads.

Viewing birds from inside can be strengthened by doing the same. Birds can see movement, faces and hands through a window, so masks and gloves help there, too.

These February days give birders other assistance, too. This is the beginning of mating and nesting season for hawks, owls and eagles. A few migrants or bird irruptions may be bringing other birds here. Waterfowl and some other avians are nearing peak color time.

Feeder activity has not yet slowed to a crawl, either.

Snowy owls came south to Wisconsin in good numbers, showing up in almost every Wisconsin county in 2018.

The DNR has been releasing a statewide birding report crafted by an exceptional bird ecologist, Ryan Brady. Recently he pointed out that snowy owls, short-eared owls, rough-legged hawks and a few other field birds have caught the eyes of many photographers. In some areas pine siskins and redpolls are stealing the show at feeders.

Watch for his weekly tips of sightings on the DNR web pages.

Canada geese can be heard between turkey gobbles at daybreak, and great-horned owls have been reported nesting in Dane County.

Bald eagles are readying their permanent nests. A real treat is seeing two birds working in tandem carrying a small branch to a nest.

A few kingfishers are about, signaling trout anglers where open streams can be easily fished. And while not as common as during recent winters, some golden eagles have been reported in several southern counties, including Iowa County.

Male ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and ring-necked pheasants are beginning their late-winter maneuvers, sometimes involving calls and displays.

“Seeing, hearing and watching birds can really brighten one’s otherwise gloomy day,” Matheys said.

Jerry Davis can be reached at

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