The November flight is often the most spectacular, as up to a million Canada geese in total pass through east central Wisconsin from early fall into winter. Goose numbers peak at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge during November. / Rob Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
November brings the final push of migrant birds across the state. Some are traveling north to south, while others make the journey west to east.
Whatever rivers in the sky they choose to follow, the birds of November embark on the final leg of their long distance autumn journeys from the areas they were born, and raised this year’s young, to the places they will spend the long winter.
The sandhills will be departing soon, as their staging marshes begin to freeze over. The birds will push on to the south to wintering grounds in the middle and lower Mississippi Valley and along the Gulf Coast.
Thousands of cranes still remain in the area, gathering each night at wetlands and marshes across the state. Some of the largest staging areas may contain over 10,000 sandhill cranes. Imagine the roar of their beautiful cries.
When the sandhills depart, they wait for a favorable updraft, then begin to slowly spiral upward with the warmth of the morning sun.
As they reach a favorable height, the birds turn south and stream alongside the invisible highways in the sky to their next destination.
Canada geese are gathering as well, and they will remain in the area until ice becomes too thick on their roosting marshes, or as snows become too deep in their feeding fields.
The geese in the area now are not the same birds that spent the summer raising young on ponds and marshes locally. These are truly wild geese that have traveled long distances to gather here and stage, or prepare for the final leg of their journey to wintering grounds in southern Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.
There are many excellent places in the area to see large flocks of Canada geese during autumn. And you don’t have to go far.
Many large Canada goose roosts exist right in the Fox Cities, including several thousand at the ponds along the Apple Creek Trail near Thrivent, as well as retention ponds in and around the Fox Cities.
Collins Marsh State Wildlife Area, located in Manitowoc County, holds a large population of Canada geese, as well as snow geese.
And, of course, there is Horicon. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Horicon State Wildlife Area, attract hundreds of thousands of Canada geese each fall.
While October is more popular for sightseers and tourists at Horicon because of the more pleasant weather, there are actually more geese on the marsh in November and December than during early fall.
This is as the final push of migrant finally moves down from Canada, and flocks from adjacent roosts begin to pour into the world’s largest freshwater cattail marsh.
With November come the tundra swans, arrowing across the Wisconsin skies throughout the month.
Tens of thousands of swans gather together along the upper Mississippi River pools, staging there before the final push east across the state.
Hundreds of swans will also gather in eastern Wisconsin, at locations such a Shawano Lake, Lake Winnebago, Collins Marsh and Horicon.
The journey of the swans is an exciting time for the birds, as families and strangers gather together in increasing numbers to follow their ancestral routes to the East Coast.
Tundra swans travel nearly east to west across Wisconsin before turning slightly to the south to their wintering grounds along the Maryland and Virginia coasts as well North Carolina.
As the final flocks wing across the state on journeys elsewhere, a number of species of birds arrive here from beyond our borders for their own version of winter paradise.
Soon, bald eagles will begin to arrive by the hundreds along area waterways, where they will feed all winter long on fresh fish along the Fox River from Neenah and Menasha all the way to Green Bay.
As many Fox Cities motorists are aware, a large number of red-tailed hawks also arrive in our area to winter and feed upon our rich supply of mice, voles and other rodents. It is common to see these huge hawks perched upon highway signs and billboards, even on our busiest urban highways.
Several species of Arctic owls and songbirds also sweep south into Wisconsin’s forests and woodland edges during where they will spend the winter months.
Browse photos of more of Wisconsin's birds:
Rob Zimmer: 920-419-3734, firstname.lastname@example.org