Breakfast with the Birds at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Crane with Chick

You can’t beat an early Saturday morning at the Horicon Marsh watching a pair of Sandhill Cranes feed their chick. The parent probes deep in the mud submerging its entire beak searching for insects. It clamps the tasty morsel in its bill, lifts it from the soil, and turns toward its chick.

Sandhill Cranes at the Horicon Marsh

Sandhill Crane Feeding Chick

The chick intently watches and when he sees the insect in his parent’s bill, he eagerly runs to his parent to be fed. The adult drops the bug into the chick’s open beak. The adult waits to be sure the hand off was successful and the chick downs his breakfast. The chick walks back and forth between his parents who readily share their prey.

Sandhill Crane with Chick at the Horicon Marsh

The family continues meandering together along the edge of a drift of cattails. They quickly walk into the cattails to hide when they sense danger.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Crane at the Horicon Marsh

Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Crane

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds were also feasting this morning and found their breakfast among the feathers of the Sandhill Crane.  The crane allowed them to pick insects from its back. The crane didn’t let the blackbirds get near its chick.

Female Blue-winged Teal at the Horicon Marsh

Female Blue-winged Teal

If you are like me, and you have difficulty identifying female dabbling ducks, there is a handy comparison chart in Waterfowl of Eastern North America by Chris Earley. The female Blue-winged Teal has a gray bill, white around the eye with a dark eye line, and white at the base of the bill.

Spotted Sandpiper at the Horicon Marsh

Spotted Sandpiper

Shorebirds can also be a challenge to identify. The Spotted Sandpiper makes it easier with its distinctive spots on the breast and flanks during spring and summer breeding season.

Least Sandpiper at the Horicon Marsh

Least Sandpiper

This little sandpiper took some digging into the field guides to identify. The Least Sandpiper is the smallest shorebird in the world at 5-6 inches long. It has short yellow legs, an all black, slightly downturned bill, and warm chestnut shading on its back and crown.  He was feeding along the shoreline of the marsh.

Goldfinch Perched on Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Goldfinch Perched on Wild Parsnip

The striking yellow and black Goldfinch is easy to identify. Be sure to use a telephoto lens, if you are taking pictures of it on this plant. The deceivingly pretty, lacy yellow flowers of Wild Parsnip, adorn a plant that will burn a human’s skin. Brushing against the leaves, in combination with sunlight, causes redness and blisters.

Do you have a favorite field guide to birds? Let us know in the comments section. The little library located at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center is stocked with a variety of field guides available to be used while you visit the marsh.

Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Wild Parsnip at the Horicon Marsh

Wild Parsnip

A sea of cheery yellow Wild Parsnip is a pretty backdrop to the purple and pink blooms of clover and milkweed. Don’t give in to the temptation to pick a bouquet!  Oils from the leaves of Wild Parsnip that get on your skin, combined with sunlight, cause a painful rash and blisters. Stay on the trails when you are hiking to avoid contact with this plant. David J. Eagan highlights the chemicals involved in causing the skin burns and how to treat it in his article “Burned by Wild Parsnip.” The Wisconsin DNR has more pictures of Wild Parsnip in its invasive species photo gallery. An excellent article that outlines methods for controlling this pesky plant can be found on the Integrated Pest and Crop Management website.

Waved Sphinx Moth

Waved Sphinx Moth at the Horicon Marsh

Waved Sphinx Moth

The Waved Sphinx Moth is normally nocturnal, but this one was resting in the shade on this 93 degree day at the Horicon Marsh.  He is over 3 inches long. The white spot in the middle of the forewing is a reliable field mark.  This common moth can fly up to 12 mph. They use their long tongues to eat nectar from tubular flowers. Their caterpillars are called hornworms because of the horn or spur that protrudes from their posterior.  The main host plant is the ash tree.  Unfortunately, Emerald Ash Borers are destroying this important host. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides information about what we can do to preserve our valuable ash trees to facilitate the survival of species like the Waved Sphinx Moth.

An Amazing Imposter

Gray Catbird at the Horicon Marsh

Gray Catbird

The Gray Catbird, with its understated beauty, is named for its call. It sounds like a young kitten mewing. It can also “imitate the vocalizations of over 40 bird species, at least one frog species and several sounds produced by machines and electronic devices,” according to the American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America: Eastern Region. Amazingly, it can sing two notes simultaneously. Some of us would be happy to sing one note well.

Black-necked Stilt and Dunlin at the Horicon Marsh

Black-necked Stilt Eyeing a Dunlin

Shorebirds can be difficult to identify. The Dunlin has a large, square, black patch on its abdomen, as part of its adult breeding plumage, making it easy to recognize. The Black-necked Stilt has striking black and white plumage with thin pink legs.  This is prime nesting time at the Horicon Marsh and a wide variety of birds can be seen with their stunning breeding plumage.

More Warblers at the Horicon Marsh

Palm Warbler at the Horicon Marsh

Palm Warbler

The intensely gazing Palm Warbler makes only a brief stop before darting to his next perch. Palm Warblers are one of the northernmost breeding of all warblers. They winter in the south and they got their name when they were discovered on a Caribbean island filled with palm trees.

Blackpoll Warbler at the Horicon Marsh

Blackpoll Warbler

The Blackpoll Warbler is the only warbler that breeds farther north than the Palm Warbler. The Blackpoll Warbler is one of the last warblers to arrive in the spring. “The Blackpoll is said to be one of the most beneficial of warblers, fairly gorging itself on cankerworms,” according to American ornithologist Florence Merriam. There’s a fun fact to share with friends.

Common Yellowthroat at the Horicon Marsh

Common Yellowthroat

This Common Yellowthroat flitted among the tangled branches of shrubs along the edge of the Marsh.

American Robin at the Horicon Marsh

American Robin

This American Robin ate a few too many earthworms while he was watching the antics of the warblers at the Horicon Marsh.

You can still participate in activities for the bird festival continuing today and tomorrow.

Warblers at the Horicon Marsh

Yellow Warbler at the Horicon Marsh

Yellow Warbler

Warblers were active at the Horicon Marsh this evening singing and flitting among budding shrubs and trees. The Yellow Warbler was aptly described as “a bit of feathered sunshine” by ornithologist Frank Chapman.

Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" Warbler at the Horicon Marsh

Male Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler

The male Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler has patches of yellow on his crown, side, and rump.

Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Horicon Marsh

It is called the Myrtle Warbler because it is the only warbler that uses special enzymes to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. It’s ability to digest these fruits allows it to spend the winter farther north than other warblers.

Canada Goose with Goslings at the Horicon Marsh

Canada Goose with Goslings

Canada Goose goslings are becoming more abundant.  The Horicon Marsh Bird Festival starts Thursday, May 10th and continues through Monday, May 14th. It is a wonderful opportunity to see over 200 bird species that visit the Horicon Marsh.

Spring Bird Species at the Horicon Marsh

Forster's Terns at the Horicon Marsh

Forster’s Terns

Forster’s Terns perch on last year’s cattails along Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh. English botanist Thomas Nuttall named this tern after Johann  Reinhold Forster, a naturalist who accompanied the English explorer Captain Cook on his epic second voyage (1772-75), according to Birds of North America: Eastern Region. If you could have a bird named after you, what species would you choose? Share your choice in the comments section.

Blue-winged Teal

Male Blue-winged Teal

A pair of Blue-winged Teal swim in the water along the auto tour. They are usually skittish and fly away quickly when approached, but this pair was content to swim and eat while being photographed.

Female Blue-winged Teal at the Horicon Marsh

Female Blue-winged Teal

The female Blue-winged Teal looks similar to most other female dabbling ducks, but she is distinguished by a patch of blue on the upper wing coverts.

Fish at the Horicon Marsh


Schools of fish swim with their backs out of the water and their dorsal fins exposed. It may be related to shallow water in that area or it may be related to water temperature. Fish may swim near the surface in spring due to cooler temperatures.  In summer, they may swim deeper where it’s cooler.

Double-crested Cormorant at the Horicon Marsh

Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant swims with its body submerged and its bill in the air.  It has beautiful blue eyes.

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Shoveler

The yellow eye of the Northern Shoveler contrasts with its metallic greenish to purplish head feathers.  Flocks of Shovelers continue to swim along Highway 49.

Female Red-winged Blackbird at the Horicon Marsh

Female Red-winged Blackbird

This female Red-winged Blackbird looks nothing like its mate. They like to nest among the cattails from March to June.

Gull at the Horicon Marsh


What type of gull do you think this is? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

Bird activity is picking up at the Horicon Marsh and many species are nesting. Be careful driving on Highway 49. You may need to wait for goslings crossing the road.


Crocuses Near the Horicon Marsh


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The crocuses were up and ready to blossom when they were battered by freezing rain and snow twice this week. The storms showcased the flower’s resilience and their beauty is resplendent framed by ice. Crocuses are one of the first flowers of spring and a symbol of hope after a long, cold winter. Spring has finally arrived at the Horicon Marsh!

Lots of Flocks

Northern Shoveler at the Horicon Marsh

Northern Shoveler

The stunning breeding plumage of the male Northern Shoveler catches your eye as you travel through the Horicon Marsh today. He is easily identified by his oversized bill, which he uses to skim across the water’s surface to find tiny crustaceans and seeds to eat. Flocks of Northern Shovelers were joined by Greater Scaups, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coots.

Trumpeter Swan at the Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swan

Flocks of Tundra Swans, identified by yellow spots at the base of their bills (the lore), and Trumpeter Swans swam among the Canada Geese along Highway 49. It was a treat to drive through the auto tour which is now open to vehicles.


Gulls Just Want to Have Fun

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gulls soared together riding the wind currents over the Horicon Marsh on Sunday afternoon.  Gulls are partial migrants. Some stay in the area and some migrate to the warmer coasts in the winter.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Ring-billed Gull Watches the Surface of the Horicon Marsh

The gulls took turns hovering briefly, a few feet above the surface of the marsh, looking for fish, frogs, and insects.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh When they spotted a delicious morsel,  they plunged to the water, snatched their tasty treat, and took off. They often dropped their dinner and scooped it back up several times before eating it.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Tastes Like Chicken

This gull snaps up a frog from the water.

Ring-billed Gull at the Horicon Marsh

The gulls were quite vocal when they weren’t eating.

Herring Gull at the Horicon Marsh

Herring Gull

The Herring Gull is content to watch the action from the slowly dissipating ice crust. His pink legs and the red spot on his bill distinguish him from the Ring-billed Gull with its yellow legs and black band around the bill. It takes two to four years to develop this beautiful gray and white plumage accented with a black tail and white tips.