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29 Black-and-white Birds in Wisconsin

black-and-white birds in wisconsin
Long-tailed Duck in Port Washington, Wisconsin: Photo by Alex Mann

Introduction

A mosaic of habitats hosts diverse black-and-white birds in Wisconsin occupying essential ecological roles. Seasonal migrants join year-round residents across changing environments statewide. This article explores some common black-and-white birds spotting Badger State skies through the seasons.  

Stunning Black-and-White Birds in Wisconsin

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

  • Features: A large grayish-brown waterfowl with a white face blaze and black belly bars and bright orange legs/feet. Has loud, honking calls. 
  • Locations: Found foraging in flooded fields and wetlands mostly during spring/fall migration across Wisconsin. Spends summers raising young in the Arctic region.
  • Fun Fact: This far-flying goose doubles its weight by fueling up on agricultural gleanings at migration stopovers to sustain its remarkably lengthy migration journey between its Arctic nest sites and southern wintering regions spanning continents between oceans.

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  

  • Features: A smaller tundra-breeding goose with a black head, white chinstrap, and gray back feathers. High-pitched yelping calls.
  • Locations: Seen migrating through Wisconsin’s marshes and fields or loafing on lakes with the bigger, similar-looking Canada Goose before heading towards arctic coasts for summer or Gulf shores for winter.  
  • Fun Fact: These birds navigate the entire length of the Pacific Americas Flyway exceeding 5,000 miles twice a year!  

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

  • Features: Iconic large, gray-brown waterfowl with a black head, neck and long black legs. White cheek patch visible during flight. Loud, resonant honking you know exactly what we’re talking about.
  • Locations: Found statewide year-round near lakes, parks, wetlands and agricultural fields. Tolerates human presence which enables the birds to have thriving urban populations.
  • Fun Fact: Canada Goose will dabble their toes to filter mud-bottomed wetlands to help them access choice plant parts that are submerged underwater. They may live over 20 years. Aggressive during nest defense, reluctant to abandon bravely brooding eggs.   

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)  

  • Features: Small diving duck with a peaked rear crown, black back and wings deeply contrasting white vertical stripe along flanks. Male shows distinctive chestnut neck band and pale gray sides during breeding season.
  • Locations: Found chiefly during spring and fall migrations on vegetated wetlands and lakes statewide. Winters along Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Summers nesting farther north in Canada’s boreal forest or prairie region. 
  • Fun Fact: Courting males engage in a water-rearing display or “head-throw” to impress potential mates during late March breeding arrival at northern nesting sites.

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila

  • Features: Stocky diving duck showing white sides contrasting dark gray back feathers. Adult male sports flashy green head sheen. Yellow eyes.  
  • Locations: Observed migrating across Lakes Michigan and Superior when moving between boreal forest nesting grounds and coastal wintering habitats down south as far as Mexico.
  • Fun Fact:  Male “rafts” gather in spring to court females flying overhead and then invite prospective mates down towards their larger forming group. A now for the chaotic receptive mounting attempts to ultimately secure genetic futures.

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)   

  • Features: Very similar species to the Greater Scaup, just smaller and showing more white extending across flanks. Males exhibit purplish heads during breeding plumage.
  • Locations: Seen statewide during migrations at lakes and wetlands enroute between Midwestern breeding habitats and southern coastal wintering regions.
  • Fun Fact: Dives deeper down reaching plants unavailable to dabbling duck cousins. Searches lakeshores for precious nesting structure remnants avoidance ever encroaching shoreside residence construction destroying previous breeding territories.   

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)  

  • Features: Unmistakable long thin tail feathers that are visible, especially through spotting scopes, give this duck its vernacular name. Breeding male is mostly white with black cap and back and decoratively pink-toned black bill. Female mottled gray-brown in coloration.
  • Locations: Observed chiefly during spring and fall migrations on the Great Lakes. Breeds circumpolar arctic regions including Alaska and Canada. Winters along Atlantic and Pacific Coasts all the way south to Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Most North American breeding occurs in Alaska, with wintering hot spots off North Carolina and British Columbia, undertaking lengthy migrations spanning continents biannually.

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola

  • Features: Tiny diving duck with large head and puffy crest. Male shows bright white body contrasting sharply darker black upperparts. Female grayish overall with diffuse white facial patch.   
  • Locations: Seen during migration and winter statewide on lakes and coastal marine regions. Summers farther north nesting in tree cavities excavated by larger woodpeckers.  
  • Fun Fact: Male aggressively defends chosen breeding territory after extensive loud aerial displays that (hopefully) eventually attract a nesting female down towards his guarded wooded wetlands.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

  • Features: Oval profile on the water showing white sides contrasting black upperparts with green head sheen visible closer up. Bright yellow eye on male stands out against darker head. Female displays gray-brown head with neat white cheek spot.
  • Locations: Observed wintering on lakes and rivers statewide. Summers breeding farther north in forested wetlands across Canada and Alaska before heading down south for winter. 
  • Fun Fact: Male flies high over staging wetlands repeatedly crossing paths with peers using whistles and head throws hoping to secure the perfect nesting female partner.  

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  

  • Features: Petite duck with a prominent rounded white crest patch contrasting black sides and back. Sharply pointed bill. Female shows neat auburn crest with gray body. 
  • Locations: Found year-round upon wooded wetlands statewide. Requires mature trees with nesting cavities. Most winter along Gulf Coast.
  • Fun Fact: A mother merganser will ferociously defend vulnerable chicks swimming upon her back by hissing, exposing a thin pointed bill tip towards any perceived dangers approaching her brood.  

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

  • Features: Graceful shorebird with slim red legs, thin black bill, bold white stripes down back accentuating black capped head, neck and mantle.   
  • Locations: Found during breeding season along inland prairie wetlands statewide. Winters down south from Texas through Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Nests are surrounded by water on wetland islands or even floating mats to protect spotted, speckled eggs. Both parents fiercely defend chicks and start feeding soon after they hatch.

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus

  • Features: Enormous gull species showing blackish gray mantle back contrasting clean white underwings. Impressive wingspan nearly equaling bald eagles alongside whom they scavenge.
  • Locations: Observed wintering across Lakes Michigan and Superior. Summers much farther northeast nesting among remote islands and coastal cliffs up into arctic lands still blanketed by persistent winter as southernmost peers begin heading poleward to breed.  
  • Fun Fact: Males offer female “nuptial gifts” such as freshly collected grasses and algae or scraps scavenged from generous human handouts and careless fishermen in courtship exchanges aimed towards securing mating benefits.   

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

  • Features: Silvery gray-black bird with a jet black head during summer. Loose black feathering appears darker overall in non-breeding seasons. Often observed hawking behind plowing farm machinery.
  • Locations: Found summer nesting on elevated wetland vegetation mats across interior lakes and prairies. Winters along ocean coastlines down to Argentina.  
  • Fun Fact: Black terns create camouflaged, concealed ground nests in order to protect their eggs from larger mammals grazing in their chosen wet prairie nesting habitats.  

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax

  • Features: Grayish-black plumage with sharp rear crown feathers that inspire the name. Distinctive red eyes. Squawks can be heard well from rookeries.  
  • Locations: Observed year-round at wetlands near cities statewide. Most night herons winter farther south along Gulf up through Atlantic coasts.
  • Fun Fact: They have short legs but a wide stride that is uniquely adapted amongst herons to traversing drier uplands in nighttime feeding forays rather than traditional daytime fish.   

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

  • Features: Large raptor with long narrow wings built for soaring over waterways. Dark brown back feathers. Fierce yellow eyes and talons for catching fish.
  • Locations: Found along Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Most winter down along the Gulf Coast. They require abundant fish and nesting perches. 
  • Fun Fact: Osprey can rotate their feet forward to hold slippery fish securely in their razor-sharp talons, inevitably ensuring dinner is successfully taken to their hungry young. Watching Ospreys rear young can be a joy to watch! 

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus

  • Features: Massive white owl with varying black spotting showing barred plumage patterns across soft, round body and wings. Fierce yellow eyes that are distinct.
  • Locations: Sometimes irrupts (not erupts!) south towards Wisconsin in winter if food is scarce farther north. Returns to arctic snowlands in spring.
  • Fun Fact: Hunts opportunistically day or night, prowling frozen tundra searching out lemmings, small, muskrat-like rodents. These owls soar long distances listening intently for rodent squeaks beneath the snow.  

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)   

  • Features: Wisconsin’s smallest woodpecker displays bold black and white plumage patterns. Male shows distinctive red cap above white stripe down black nape.  
  • Locations: Found year-round breeding across forested areas statewide excavating nest holes tight inside arboreal snags and feeding upon surrounding live foliage.
  • Fun Fact: Males will drum rhythmic beats in order to proclaim territory and in hopes of being heard and getting drum replies from prospective mates within his proclaimed territory.  

Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus)  

  • Features: Very similar larger cousin to Downy, sharing barred black and white plumage. Less distinctly striped white down its black nape. Bill length aids identification, being closer to the length of its head, as opposed to Downy’s bills which are about half the length of their heads.
  • Locations: Shares similar year-round forested habitat preferences with Downy but also ranges in more isolated stands with sparser snags available for nest excavation.   
  • Fun Fact: Male Hairies drum somewhat slower lengthier rolls against suitable hollowed trees (and other conduits), producing deeply resonant territorial “calls” used to assess nearby competition and entice prospective female mates.   

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

  • Features: Regal large falcon predator exhibiting variable plumage color morphs all revealing neat black mustache stripes. Juveniles start darker before whitening.   
  • Locations: Found rarely away from breeding sites along Alaska and Canadian tundra. May be seen after chasing migratory waterfowl with individuals venturing over Wisconsin during southbound migrations.
  • Fun Fact: Fierce, effective apex predator chasing birds and nimble mammals that comprise almost all of its predatory diet. Only Peregrine Falcons rank higher acceleration attacking aerial prey.   

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  

  • Features: Crow-sized slate blue-gray falcon with a thick bold mustache and streaking underneath barred plumage. Swift powerful flight profiles.  
  • Locations: Observed occasionally statewide after a prolific reintroduction success that empowered a population resurgence across their ancestral eastern breeding habitats and urban migration pathways.
  • Fun Fact: Perhaps the world’s fastest animal topping out at 200 mph! Their steep hunting stoops expertly strike unsuspecting prey midflight using their deadly talons.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

  • Features: Medium-sized flycatcher often observed aggressively darting from low perches snatching insects. Conspicuous white-bellied, black-capped, dark gray bird.  
  • Locations: Found nesting underneath infrastructure statewide in summer breeding season. Winters farther south after raising broods inside mud cup nests attached to human structures.   
  • Fun Fact: Early spring migrant come proclaiming their arrival with a repeated “Phoebe!” – a call that advertises this flycatcher species’ familiar name.  

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)  

  • Features: Grayish dark flycatcher that features concealed orange crown patch often exposed during territorial displays. Black tail shows white outer tips.
  • Locations: Found summering statewide in open country foraging for insects from fence posts and wires. Winters down south from Mexico through Argentina forests.   
  • Fun Fact: Kingbirds pose an aggressive defense against perceived nest threats. This sometimes leads these flycatchers to occasionally attacking much larger threats like humans or raptors straying too close to their precious hidden nestlings.  

Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis)  

  • Features: A nomadic predator relative of the similar Loggerhead Shrike farther south. Black bandit mask across fierce eyes inspires the vernacular name, “The Masked Bandit.” Sharply hooked bill.
  • Locations: Observed wintering inside Wisconsin near open country providing optimal hunting perches to spot and then ambush small mammal and reptile prey including mice voles and shrews.  
  • Fun Fact: Often called “Butcher Birds” thanks to their ruthless and aggressive winter survival strategies that concentrate on hunting smaller prey, impaling them, sometimes still living, to thorns, barbed-wire, or whatever else they can think of within their territory, securing food for the future.

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus

  • Features: Iconic Wisconsin backyard bird showing round body, black cap/bib, soft gray wings and back and buffy underside. Whistled “chickadee-dee” calls heard daily.
  • Locations: Found year-round breeding across deciduous and mixed woodlands statewide. Serves important overwinter seed dispersal ecological roles.   
  • Fun Fact: The Black-capped Chickadee is known for hoarding and hiding food like seeds to retrieve later. These clever birds tuck away each food item in distinct spots and can recall thousands of hiding places. Remarkably, every fall they undergo a little “brain cleaning”. Chickadees allow their bodies to purge neurons containing old memory data that’s no longer useful – such as remembered locations of previous years’ food caches that have now gone empty. This annual refresh frees up their tiny brains to stockpile a whole new winter pantry with a fresh batch of spatial memory slots ready for filling.

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  

  • Features: Iconic snowbird with a slate gray head, neck and upper breast contrasting a clean white belly. Juncos are common in winter flocks.  
  • Locations: Often seen in mixed winter flocks feeding at platform bird feeders and scratching leaf litter along Wisconsin woodland edges while awaiting their pole-bound spring migration toward breeding territories farther north through Canada.  
  • Fun Fact: Observations have documented an expanding range shift farther north in recent decades for juncos. This shift presumably signifies climate change temperature effects during nesting seasons that for the ground-nesters towards colder climes in order to ensure appropriate environmental egg/chick development cues.   

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)  

  • Features: Male shows bold black front half contrasting bright creamy hindquarters. Female mostly pale yellow brown. Distinctive bubbly song.  
  • Locations: Found in the summer in Wisconsin’s prairie grasslands and pasturelands. Winters down through Argentina after lengthy southbound migrations.   
  • Fun Fact: Tests show single populations often traverse separate hemispheres biannually, migrating between Canadian summer breeding nest sites to Argentine and Bolivian molting wintering grounds then racing north again come the following spring.  

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia 

  • Features: Boldly striped warbler that constantly fans its long tail while rapidly bouncing along mixed woodland branches probing crevices. Dark pointed bill.
  • Locations: Found statewide during spring and fall migration passages toward boreal nesting territories farther north through Canada before wintering south to northern South America.
  • Fun Fact: This warbler’s specialized creeper foraging niche allows it to share optimal resources with other warbler species during critical migration refueling stops. It actively traverses tree trunks, unlike most warbler cousins, moving about branches or foliage and waiting inside protective cover seeking insect prey.

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)    

  • Features: Tiny charcoal gray warbler with bold white cheek flashes and faint narrow dark crown stripes. Fans tail constantly when maniacally chasing competitors on breeding grounds.
  • Locations: Occurs only briefly in Wisconsin during migrations including along upper Wisconsin coastlines before astounding transoceanic flight treks requiring intricate fuel conservation and navigation capacities that are honed from birth.
  • Fun Fact: Weighing barely over half an ounce, these warblers traverse thousands of miles nonstop over Atlantic and Gulf waters to their wintering grounds in northern South America after fledging young from Alaskan and Canadian tundra nests. Their migrations remain among the lengthiest relative to body sizes found anywhere in the animal kingdom!   

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus

  • Features: Male shows black and white upperparts with a bold red breast patch. Female camouflaged streak brown lacking the vivid red bib.
  • Locations: Found occupying breeding songbird ecological roles across Wisconsin during warmer months before most head south from Mexico into South America for winters.   
  • Fun Fact: Male flashes white linings on wings when locked alongside the female during a breathtaking rolling mating ritual.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat pressures severely threaten breeding and migratory stopover habitats for black-and-white birds in Wisconsin. Careful stewardship of essential roosting sites ensures migratory species continue embellishing the sky during biannual passages. Installing mirrored film deterrents on glass buildings reduces mortality events for birds mistaking reflections as open airspace. Teaching children early and often engenders committed generations who value environmental and wildlife protections.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Wisconsin birders contribute:  

  • eBird checklists inform global conservation decisions on bird populations  
  • Breeding bird atlas projects map species distributions for protection
  • Nest box availability projects aid reproductive success
  • Bird banding reveals migration routes and survivorship trends
  • Annual Christmas Bird Counts tally wintering bird numbers   

Conclusion

Wisconsin’s habitats support over 400 regular wild bird species moving through the seasons, including numerous striking black-and-white beauties playing essential ecological roles through aerial insect control, seed dispersal for regenerating forests and more as they flow through Badger State skies on their yearly hemispheric journeys. Wise conservation efforts can empower future generations opportunities enjoying nature’s winged gifts embodied among fragile migratory birds sharing the Americas in search of nesting grounds and winter homes.