Birding 101: How to get started bird watching on the UW-Madison campus

Birds on the UW-Madison campus do a fantastic job making their presence known each spring, singing and chirping up a storm. Yet casual observers may not realize what a fantastic spot campus is for bird watching—and how easy it is to get started. The following Q & A with Jamie Nack, a wildlife outreach specialist with the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and UW-Extension, offers information and advice for beginning birders.

Jamie Nack

Q: Are there good birding spots on or near campus?
Nack: Yes, we are very fortunate that way. The Lakeshore Nature Preserve—which includes Picnic Point—and the UW Arboretum are birding hot spots. More than 200 species can be seen in these areas over the course of a year, many of them migrants that fly through in spring and fall.

Q: What equipment is necessary to get started?
Nack: All you really need is a pair of binoculars and a guidebook. There are specific recommendations and all kinds of other helpful information for beginners in the free, downloadable booklet Birding in the Badger State and Beyond, which I co-wrote with my colleagues Scott Craven and David Drake.

Q: What kinds of birds will be around in May?
Nack: May is an exciting time to look for warblers, a group of birds known for their colorful markings and pretty songs. More than 30 species of warblers come through the area, so it’s a chance for birders to add a bunch of species to their annual bird lists.  Early May is also a good time to hear and see woodcock performing their “sky dance” at the UW Arboretum.

Q: Any other tips for new birders?
Nack: At first, it’s probably best to go out with a more experienced birder. One great option is to attend an expert-led birding hike hosted by the Madison Audubon Society, the UW Arboretum or the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.