Wisconsin Bird Identification

Wisconsin is home to more than 400 species of birds.
Wisconsin is home to more than 400 species of birds. (Image: common loon image by Ronnie Howard from Fotolia.com)

Wisconsin provides a habitat for more than 400 species of birds, living in various settings, including thousands of lakes in the northern part of the state as well as marshes and wet meadows along the Mississippi River in the west. Wisconsin has forests of white pine, hemlock, yellow birch and maple, which is home to a number of bird species. Identifying these birds is a matter of looking at their individual characteristics.


The size of a bird is a significant element for determining its identification. Comparing a bird's size with that of commonly known birds, such as a sparrow, a robin and a crow, can be used to create benchmarks for determining size. Figuring out the size of an unknown bird can help differentiate birds of similar species. A ring-necked pheasant, for instance, is 33 to 36 inches long in contrast with the similar-looking ruffed grouse, which is only 15 to 19 inches in length.


Studying the silhouette of the bird is a useful tool in helping to identify it. The shape of the bird will help you to determine its category, such as predatory, songbird, non-passerine land bird, waterfowl and marshland birds or land fowl. For instance a songbird, such as an American goldfinch, has a much different silhouette than a ruffed grouse, a land fowl.

Color Subtleties and Field Marks

Coloring and field marks--the distinctive marks on a bird that help to distinguish it from other species--are a great aid in identifying a bird. When looking at a bird, check the color of each major part of its body. Something as simple as the color of a bird's legs can help you to differentiate it from another bird of a similar species. For example, a house finch and a purple finch both have rose-red bodies and brown-streaked backs and wings, but the purple finch has more of a red wash on its sides and belly, and the house finch has brown streaks on its underparts and wings.

The Bird's Habitat

The type of habitat in which a bird lives can help to determine what type of bird it is. Some birds prefer deciduous forests, while others live in wetlands. A barn owl, for instance, will rarely be found in deep forest, preferring to live in open grassland, whereas barred owls live only in deep moist forests or wooded swamps.

Songs and Calls

One of the most useful ways to identify a bird is to listen to its song. Some birds have loud, rasping calls, while others have soft, low calls. Songs vary, too, with some being high and thin and others being harsh and grating. Once you recognize the bird's call or the way it sings, you will recognize the bird. The haunting "coo-coo-coo" of a mourning dove, for instance, is unforgettable.

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