My 11 Best Bird Watching Spots in Wisconsin You Should Try

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Wisconsin has over 300,000 acres of important bird areas, making this an excellent state for bird watching. The state has many habitats and places to choose from, which makes knowing where to visit challenging. This is why I have compiled this list of the best bird watching spots in the state.

The best bird watching spots in Wisconsin are those along the shores of lakes and rivers, such as Harrington Beach and Wyalusing. Large marshy and wetland areas such as Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Crex Meadows, and Trempealeau are recommended for seeing birds.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 11 birding spots in Wisconsin:

Crex Meadows Wildlife AreaSandhill Crane and Sharp-tailed Grouse
Horicon National Wildlife RefugeAmerican White Pelican and Snow Bunting
Trempealeau National Wildlife RefugeAmerican Black Duck and Grasshopper Sparrow
Schlitz Audubon Nature CenterMerlin and Great Horned Owl
Wyalusing State ParkRed-shouldered Hawk and Ruffed Grouse
Chequamegon-Nicolet National ForestBoreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse
Harrington Beach State ParkLong-tailed Duck and Thayer’s Gull
Wind PointPurple Sandpiper and Red Phalarope
Yellowstone Lake State ParkBarred Owl and Common Loon
Devil’s Lake State ParkCerulean Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo
Baxter’s Hollow State Natural AreaBlackburnian Warbler and Veery
Best Places to Bird Watch in Wisconsin

Read more below to discover what the best bird watching sites are in Wisconsin and which birds you should look for in each spot.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Wisconsin
Best Bird Watching Spots in Wisconsin

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is on the edge of two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. There are many habitats for birds in the state, including marshlands, lakes, grasslands, and forests.

1. Crex Meadows Wildlife Area

This is an area of 30,000 acres that includes different habitats. You can find habitats such as prairie, woodlands, forests, sedge marshes, and wetlands.

There are 40 miles of roads you can drive on when exploring this area and looking for birds. At least 273 bird species have been recorded in the area, based on the species checklist. 

In the fall, you can see Sandhill Cranes, which arrive in large flocks. Sharp-tailed Grouse and Ruffed Grouse both occur in this area. You can also find the following bird species on the water: Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, and Pied-billed Grebe.

Other birds to look for in the refuge include Trumpeter Swans (these breed in the area), Le Conte’s Sparrows, Black Terns, Sedge Wrens, Bobolinks, Vesper Sparrows, and Wilson’s Phalaropes. 

Raptors spotted in the area include Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Northern Harrier. The Osprey and Bald Eagles will be close to the water or fishing in the water. The Northern Harrier is frequently flying relatively low over marshland and grassy areas.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

2. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is an area of marshland in the southeastern region of Wisconsin. It is a large cattail marsh that attracts many birds. This area attracts many waterfowl, shorebirds, and marsh-loving species.

The marsh covers 33,000 acres and should be on your list of bird watching spots in Wisconsin for its size and the reasonable chances you have of spotting many birds. 

Bird species that can be found here include the following: Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Virginia Rail, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. 

You should also check the edges of reeds for signs of Sora, Least Bittern, and American Bittern. Bitterns tend to be well-camouflaged and blend in with reeds, so you may need to look carefully to see them.

Other birds to look for in the refuge, but in winter, include Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Rough-legged Hawks. Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls have also been recorded here before. Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Sedge Wrens may be spotted in the reedbeds.

3. Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge

This wildlife refuge is ten square miles and is located along the Mississippi River on the western side of Wisconsin. Besides the refuge’s wetlands, there are other habitats, including bottomland forests, oak savannahs, and prairie-covered dunes. 

There is an auto tour that takes you 4.5 miles around the refuge. It is also advisable to walk on the dykes that surround the dams to get views of birds down on the water and along the edges of the marshes. This is an excellent way to see dabbling and diving ducks on the impoundments.

Birds you can find in the refuge include American White Pelicans, Mute Swans, Tundra Swans, Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Ospreys, and Bald Eagles.

Some waterfowl seen here include Bufflehead, Surf Scoter, Canvasback, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Lesser Scaup, American Black Duck, and Gadwall.

Check for Sora and Virginia Rail in marshy areas on the water’s edge. You can look in the grassy areas to find birds, such as Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Dickcissel. 

4. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is 185 acres in size and is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Although smaller than some other refugees, this area is still very productive for birders. 

This is because various habitats have wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands. There are also 6 miles of trails that you can take when bird watching.

There is a 60-foot-high observation tower that gives good views over the lake and its shoreline, which is helpful for birders. You can see many ducks, terns, and gulls on the water.

You can possibly see raptors. The raptors you may see are the following species: Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Osprey, and Broad-winged Hawk.

The area is known as a good spot for migrating songbirds. Species to look out for in spring include: Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, American Redstart, Blue-winged Warbler, and Mourning Warbler. Great Horned Owls and Baltimore Orioles nest in the refuge and can be seen.

5. Wyalusing State Park

This state park is found in the southeastern part of the state. Wyalusing State Park is also where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers join. It is a good site for bird watchers in spring migration because migrating birds often track along the shoreline of these rivers.

Also, species like the Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey breed in the park. Other resident species include the Red-shouldered Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, and American Woodcock.

Birds that have been seen in the park include the following species: Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Cerulean Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler.

For these warblers, remember to check all levels of the vegetation from the top canopy of trees down onto the ground. The beautiful Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings can also be seen in the park.

6. Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is expansive, covering 1 million acres of land. The best places for bird watching are east of the three lakes in the area.

The Scott Lake region is an excellent place to see various birds, including the secretive Spruce Grouse. You can see Common Loons and Trumpeter Swans on the water here. In the forest, you can also see Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, and Hoary Redpolls.

Other birds you can look for include Blue-throated Vireos, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, and Nashville Warblers.

7. Harrington Beach State Park

This park is on Lake Michigan. The area is perfect for fall and spring migration, when several bird species can be found in the park foraging and resting. A total of 288 bird species have been observed in the park, and a checklist is available for you to use when you make your trip.

Species of conservation concern recorded in the park include the Long-tailed Duck and Black Scoter. Several gull species found at Harrington Beach include Thayer’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Franklin’s Gull, and Glaucous Gull.

You should look out for the Olive-sided Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, and Clay-colored Sparrow in the vegetation. The Olive-sided Flycatcher is also a species that is of conservation concern.

Migrating raptors can be observed from September to October. This includes species such as the Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk.  Even a rare Ferruginous Hawk was spotted once.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

8. Wind Point

This land extends into Lake Michigan and is excellent for finding birds. At least 270 bird species have been recorded in the area, particularly between fall and spring. Winter is an excellent time to look for Purple Sandpipers, occasionally found in rocky areas.

You can also find such waterfowl as Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Red-throated Loons, and Common Loons. Other species found here in the past include: Red Phalaropes, Thayer’s Gulls, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Vegetated areas at Wind Point are suitable for migrating songbirds, including rare birds like the White-eyed Vireo and Connecticut Warbler.

9. Yellowstone Lake State Park

This is a 455-acre park that includes a lake situated on the Pecatonica River. The kinds of birds you can see here include the following: Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Common Loon, Osprey, and Bald Eagle. 

The park includes grassland and forested areas, which attract birds such as the following species: White-eyed Vireos, Barred Owls, Wild Turkeys, Willow Flycatchers, and Blue-winged Warblers. Green Herons and Sora nest in sheltered and vegetated areas on the lake’s edges.

10. Devil’s Lake State Park

This park is in the state’s south and central part and in the Baraboo Hills region. At least 220 bird species have been recorded here. Basswood, maple, and oak are the main trees growing in the park.

Bird species you can see in the park include Barred Owl, Black-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Ovenbird. You can also find warblers like the Cerulean Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler.

TOP TIP: Wild birds will generally return to their same nesting spot. What happens to them if their nest is destroyed? Find out in this article. Will a bird help an injured bird? Read here to find out, the answer could surprise you!

11. Baxter’s Hollow State Natural Area

This is close to Devil’s Lake State Park and the Baraboo Hills of Wisconsin. It is a gorge that includes a stream and forest. 

Some birds to look out for in the forest include Blackburnian Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers, Veerys, and Ruffed Grouse. The Ruffed Grouse may be tricky, but remember, they are usually on the ground. 

Best Time to Bird Watch in Wisconsin

Wisconsin always has birds to see, but certain species are only present in some seasons or are most abundant and conspicuous in certain months.

Sharp-tailed Grouse courtshipSpring
Sandhill CraneFall
Best Time to Bird Watch in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Bird

American Robin - The State Bird of Wisconsin
American Robin – The State Bird of Wisconsin

The state bird of Wisconsin is the American Robin. The bird is medium in size and easy to identify. The robin is not shy and is a common resident of open areas, including suburban lawns.

The bird’s colors are brown on the back, wings, and top of the head, and orange underneath. There is white under the tail, and the beak is yellow.

The American Robin is an adaptable bird, and although they prefer to nest low down in a tree, they can even sometimes build a nest on a man-made structure, such as a light fixture. 

Bird Watching Laws in Wisconsin

Birds that are not considered game birds are protected. A person cannot hunt or possess these birds or their eggs or young. You also cannot possess any game bird without a valid hunting license.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Wisconsin is a midwestern state that has a large number of birds present. It is also perfect for seeing birds on migration that tend to follow the shores of the Great Lakes.

The state has one of the wealthiest birdlife in the Midwest and should be included on your list of the best bird watching states to visit.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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