Mysterious find: Was Southern bird born in Wisconsin?
MILTON—Dianne Moller thought no winged gift could top the lovely snowy owl she rescued last summer near Lake Mills.
Then the licensed bird rehabilitator got a call about a mysterious raptor lying on the ground off Wright Road in Janesville.
Moller, who founded Hoo's Woods Raptor Center near Milton, knows her birds.
But she could not identify the heavily streaked and spotted juvenile.
She called birding experts in the state, but they didn't have a clue.
Then she posted the mystery bird's photo online. Within minutes, biologists from the South identified the species as a Mississippi kite.
The bird normally breeds in the southern and southwestern United States, from northern Florida to central New Mexico. But its main population spreads over the southern Great Plains.
The finding of the raptor, which is rare in Wisconsin, is creating a stir among birders and researchers who do not know where it originated.
“I can't say for sure where it came from because he could have possibly drifted with the wind a few miles,” Moller said, “but it's highly likely there was an adult pair that nested in the area.”
She predicted birders in Rock County will be watching for nesting kites in spring.
The state Department of Natural Resources said it's possible the bird was born in the state, which would be a first in Wisconsin.
“It was likely born within 50 miles of where it was picked up,” said Nick Anich, DNR conservation biologist. “So far, there has not been a confirmed nesting in the state. We are trying to figure out the details on this.”
A breeding pair has nested in Loves Park, Illinois, in recent years.
“These birds catch thermals and fly around,” Anich said. “The bird could have come up the (Rock) river valley between Rockford and Janesville.”
Moller rescued the kite at the end of August after being alerted to it on the ground in a residential backyard.
“The bird was weak and couldn't stand or see,” she said.
The University of Wisconsin Veterinary School treated the raptor, which had West Nile virus and also might have flown into something.
Today, the bird has gained weight and health, but Moller will not know until spring if the kite is well enough to be released.
In the South, the Mississippi kite is usually seen flying gracefully, gliding or swooping acrobatically as it pursues large insects in air and transfers them to its mouth.
“People love them because they are so beautiful in flight,” Moller said.
In recent decades, Mississippi kites have experienced a population explosion.
“As kite populations increase, they are spreading,” Anich said.
But climate change also will drive where the bird lives in the future.
“In general, the warming climate favors southern species moving northward,” Anich said.
New research will shed light on how Wisconsin bird populations are changing and how the changing landscape affects their numbers and distribution.
Wisconsin is in the first year of a five-year survey where citizen scientists and researchers collect data on birds breeding in the state.
The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II will document the distribution and abundance of breeding birds. When completed, researchers will have a better idea how habitat loss, climate change and other human-caused pressures are impacting birds.
Anich is coordinating the survey for the DNR, one of three agencies involved in the effort driven in large part by citizen volunteers.
Moller keeps the bird she named Wrong Way in a heated cage for the winter and gives the kite daily exercise in a large space.
Normally, the long-distance migrant would travel to wintering grounds in eastern Mexico, Panama or South America.
Moller calls caring for the bird exciting.
“After the snowy owl, I thought what else is there,” she said. “What a cool thing to have one of these birds here.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email [email protected].
Donations needed to build awning
At Hoo's Woods Raptor Center near Milton, donations are needed to build a large awning for the center's raptor building.
Birds that cannot be released into the wild live in the building.
The awning will keep out sun in summer and wind and snow in winter, while allowing the building's doors to be open to let in light and air.
In addition, the awning will give guests a sheltered place to gather before entering the building.
“We would like to complete the project as soon as possible,” said Dianne Moller, founder of Hoo's Woods.
Tax-deductible donations to the nonprofit organization can be sent to Hoo's Woods, P.O. Box 21, Milton, WI 53563.
An anonymous donor will provide a matching gift of $1,500 toward the $3,000 project if Hoo's Woods can raise the remaining amount.