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Birding & Bird Watching in Door County

The Best Bird Watching in Wisconsin

If you're attuned to the movements and sounds of our feathered friends, there's plenty of activity to keep your eyes and ears aflutter in Door County. The same pristine natural features that draw millions of human visitors to Door County each year attract multitudes of birds as well. Numerous preserved and protected landscapes—along with 300 miles of varied shoreline, 19 county parks, two nature sanctuaries, 13 protected areas of the Door County Land Trust, and an official Bird City Wisconsin designation—create a uniquely safe and peaceful environment for our avian friends.

A group of bird watchers using binoculars to look up into the trees.

Birding in Spring

More than 300 species—that's more than a third of North America's native bird population—have been spotted along the peninsula and outlying islands of Door County, making this a Wisconsin birding hotspot.

In spring, fields begin to flood as the shoreline and inland lakes thaw, creating a welcoming environment for migrant ducks, geese, and cranes. As the season unfolds, tree buds burst open, signaling it's prime time to explore forests, fields, and other landscapes for a glimpse of new avian arrivals.

Spring is also the perfect time to spot gulls, terns, cranes, pelicans, colorful warblers in the woodlands, and waterfowl in flooded fields and thawing shoreline. Anything from sandhill cranes and larks to killdeer and redwings come back to Door County by mid-March, possibly even before the ice is off streams. Then, waterfowl return by mid-April as inland waters thaw out. Migrants, flying in from Central and South America, and shorebirds return mid-May. 

Summer, Fall, & Winter Birding

Come summer, shorebirds begin to populate the area in droves, spending anywhere from three days to a week in one location. Keep a watchful eye out for the indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, and rose-breasted grosbeak.

When leaves turn vivid shades of orange, yellow, and red with the onset of autumn, tundra swans, wood ducks, and Canada geese can be found soaring against the colorful harvest backdrop as they journey south for winter. 

Even when trees become bare and snow falls upon the rolling hills, bluffs, and meadows in winter, many birds, including the black capped chickadee and Northern cardinal, can be found braving the winter wind and frigid temperatures. Many other birds are tough enough to stick it out through the Wisconsin winter, with turkeys, bald eagles, pine siskins, common redpolls, pheasants, and crows all among them.

Door County Birding Tips

  1. On your drive up here, listen to bird calls on tape, CD, or phone app and learn to identify a few favorites.

  2. In spring, visit shorelines with tall pine trees to catch migrating birds. They flock to the pine trees to pick midges that have come out of the shallow water.

  3. Head out for some bird watching after a day of strong winds from the south, which help migrating birds fly north.

  4. Find a high-quality pair of binoculars that offer an objective lens measurement between 30 and 45 mm, and try for magnification from 6 to 8.

  5. In Potawatomi State Park, watch for large, rectangular holes in dead trees. These holes are created by pileated woodpeckers looking for ants.

  6. Bring some black oil or striped sunflower seeds to the nature center at Peninsula State Park. Sprinkle some seed on your outstretched arm, hold still, and soon a chickadee will come to perch.
A great blue heron flying.

Birding with Ethics

According to the American Birding Association, it's key to exercise restraint and caution to avoid exposing birds and wildlife to danger, and you should always stay on roads and trails as much as possible to avoid habitat disturbances. This includes maintaining a generous distance from nests, nesting colonies, roosts, and feeding areas as well as never trying to attract threatened, endangered, or rare species.

Finally, remember to limit your use of sound recordings, camera lights, and other artificial means of attracting and filming birds.

A bird watcher looking through binoculars.

Bald Eagles: A Comeback Tale

Bald Eagles were once extremely rare to find in the skies above Door County, but the birds have made an amazing comeback in the last decade or so. Local bird experts estimate just one pair of eagles nested here in 1995, about 11 pairs in 2012, and by 2014, there were 15–20 pairs.

Look for Bald Eagles in tall pine trees near shorelines. People often mistake turkey vultures for Bald Eagles, but the former holds its wings upward at a distinct dihedral when soaring, while the latter holds its wings horizontally.

Common Door County Birds

More than a third of all North American bird species have been documented in the waters and on the lands of Door County, amounting to more than 300 in total. Download the Birding Guide (PDF) or check out these birding maps for even more detailed information.

  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Tundra Swans
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • American Robin
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Northern Flicker
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Turkey Vulture
  • House Finch
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Osprey
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Common Mergansers
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Meadowlark

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Seasonal Highlights

No matter when you visit Door County, there will be plenty to see and do.