6 of Wisconsin’s Rarest Birds to Add to Your Birdwatching Bucket List

Two Limpkins fight over a snail (photo via All About Birds).

By Fiona Hatch

August 16, 2023

How many can you spot before they fly south for the winter?

Avid bird watchers are in on a little secret: Wisconsin is the perfect place for birdwatching. More than 400 different species live in our state’s diverse environment, and that number grows every migration season as birds veer off-course and end up in Badgerland. 

These are some of the rarest birds recently spotted in Wisconsin, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click here to explore their online database. 


Canvasback (Photo via All About Birds)

Wisconsin lakes are home to many Mallards, but the Canvasback is not as common. The Canvasback is the largest diving duck in North America, characterized by its sloping forehead, black chest, and pale white body. They typically live in Central Alaska or the Northern Great Plains, but there have been several sightings of the duck in Wisconsin this August. 


Limpkin (Photo via eBird)

Limpkins are tropical wetland birds usually found in Florida, but you can occasionally spot one here in Wisconsin! These large water birds resemble cranes, with their dark brown coloring and white speckles. You’ll often see them picking snails from the water with their tweezer-like bills! 

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite (Photo via All About Birds)

Northern Bobwhites are native to Canada, but you might be able to catch one of these adorable quail in Wisconsin’s prairies. Sized somewhere between a robin and a crow, this bird is a difficult one to spot with its easily-camouflaged brown, rust, and black coloring. You’re most likely to find a Northern Bobwhite in open pine forests, grasslands, or overgrown fields. 

American Avocet

American Avocet (Photo via eBird)

The American Avocet is a small but long-legged bird that generally sticks to shallow waters. Identified by its abnormal beak shape and yellow head, the Avocet is a rare find in Wisconsin–they usually live farther west! Like Limpkins, this species is most often hanging around the state’s lagoons and marshlands. 

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret (Photo via eBird)

Contrary to its name, Snowy Egret are most commonly found in countries where it doesn’t snow–in Central and South America–but somehow, more of this unique bird species are ending up in Wisconsin. In between the size of a crow and a goose, Snowy Egrets are all white besides their black beak and yellow feet. Look for them near wetlands. 

Flame-Colored Tanager

Flame-Colored Tanager (Photo via eBird)

For the birdwatcher who thinks they’ve seen it all in Wisconsin, the Flame-Colored Tanager is the ultimate sighting to add to your collection. Common in Mexico and Central America, the Tanager occasionally ventures as far North as… Arizona. That’s what makes the 122 logged sightings of the bird in Wisconsin this past May so unexpected and exciting! 2023 is the first and only year this yellow-hued bird has been spotted in the state, but as bird migration patterns begin to change, you might be lucky enough to see this beautiful creature around the state more often! 

MORE: Why Are Bird Migration Patterns Changing? Blame Climate Change.


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