Western Great Lakes: Winter 2016-17

1 Dec—28 Feb

Adam M. Byrne

Recommended Citation: Byrne, A.M. 2020. Winter 2016-17: Western Great Lakes. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-9gc> North American Birds.

December began cold and snowy, but was soon followed by above-average temperatures in January, which continued into February. Late February brought unseasonably warm temperatures that exceeded 60 F. However, southeastern Minnesota was quickly reminded of winter’s harsh ways: 22—24 February delivered more than a foot of new snow. By season’s end, Minnesota had experienced 10 consecutive months of above average temperatures. Michigan’s weather will be most memorable for the frequent warm spells—it was the 7th warmest winter on record. Regional precipitation totals, mostly above-average, were often in the form of rain—not snow.

Topping this season’s rarity list were Michigan’s 2nd Black-headed Grosbeak, Minnesota’s 5th Curve-billed Thrasher, and Wisconsin’s 9th Townsend’s Warbler. Michigan also had a lingering Crested Caracara and Mountain Bluebird. Rufous Hummingbirds lingered in both Minnesota and Michigan, and Eurasian Tree Sparrows were found at multiple sites in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Contributors (sub regional editors in boldface):

Brian Allen, Linda Ar, Jacqui Baker (JaB), Jeff Bahls (JB), David A. Bartkey (DAB), Dedrick Benz (DeB), Daryl Bernard (DB), Paul Berrigan (PB), Andrew Bill (ABi), Karla A. Bloem, Milt J. Blomberg

Tom F. Boevers, Larry Bowdre, Christine Brackett, Ryan Brady (RyB), Rick Brigham (RB), David L. Brislance (DLB), Paul E. Budde (PEB), Adam M. Byrne, Marta & Dan Carrigan (MDC), Lisa Casler, Philip C. Chu, Thomas Czubek, Kate Dike, Herb H. Dingmann, Leah Dodd, Gary Dunsmoor, Ryan Dziedzic, Rebecca Engdahl, Bruce A. Fall (BAF), Richard Fanning, Joshua Forester (JF), Jim Frank (JFr), Alex J. Franzen, Ben W. Frichtman (BWF), David Frye, Wayne Gleiber, Shawn Goodchild, Ross Green, Luke Hahn (LH), Lyle Hamilton (LyH), Allen Hanson (AHa), Alex Harman (AH), Liz Harper (LiH), Gordon Hase, Thomas Heatley, Michael L. Hendrickson, Robyn & Don Henise (RDH), Beth Heppe, Scott Hickman, John W. Hockema, Aaron Holschbach (AaH), Ezra Hosch, Andy Howes (AHo), Lorri Howski (LHo), Heather Hundt, Gregory Jahner III (GJ), Michael Jorae, Jerome Jourdan, Joe Kaplan (JKa), Ted Keyel, Doug W. Kieser, Paul Kinzer, Randall Kling (RKl), Steve Kolbe, Jan & Larry Kraemer (JLK), Jean Krieg (JKr), Jill Kunsmann (JiK), Joseph Kurtz (JK), Randy Kursinsky (RK), Kristy Larson, Jonathan Lautenbach (JL), Joseph Lautenbach (JLa), Darrell Lawson, James W. Lind (JWL), Sharon L. Lind, Greg Links, Cody Leroy Lindahl (CLL), Andrew B. Longtin, Stuart Malcolm, Craig R. Mandel (CRM), Carl & Judi Manning (CJM), Brian & Marie McGee (BMM), Drew Meyer, Mark Miedema, William Mueller, Brad Nelson II, Stephen Nelson, Dana Neufeld, Jeff Newman, Peter Nichols, Frank J. Nicoletti, Aaron Nolan, Philip Odum, Tim Oksiuta, Dan Orr, Karl Overman, Todd Palgut, Andy Paulios, Wayne Perala, John Porath, Helen Pugh, Tom Reed, Marilyn & Warren Regelmann (MWR), John P. Richardson, Adam Roesch, Kathryn Rozovics, Alan Ryff, Joel Sausen (JS), Dave Schneider (DSc), David Schrab (DaS), Don Sherwood (DS), Brian T. Smith, Mike Snable (MS), Joe Soehnel (JSo), Chuck Sontag, Melinda Stamp, Spence Stehno, Alex Sundvall (AS), Peder H. Svingen, Jack Swelstad (JSw), Jesse Swift (JeS), Andrea Szymczak (ASz), Michelle Terell, Kevin Thomas, Dan Toronto, Heidi Trudell, Curtis Twellman, Don Van Dyse (DVD), Kevin Vande Vusse (KVV), Melody Walsh, Robert Watson (RWa), Justin Watts, Will Weber, Garrett Wee, Rita Wells (RW), Larry Wilebski, Patrick & Samantha Wright (PSW), Dale A. Yerger, Quentin Yoerger, Jim Young, John Zakelj, Fred Zilch.


A few overwintering Greater White-fronted Geese were in Wisconsin and Michigan. By late February, large numbers of white-fronteds returned to the region, with peaks of 620 in Dodge, WI (JB) and 140 in Allegan, MI 27 Feb (RB). Snow and Ross’s geese exhibited similar patterns: a few lingering birds in December, a handful of overwintering individuals, and then a large influx in late February. Southern Minnesota had Mute Swans in 4 counties, while one in Todd 10—27 Feb (BWF, m.ob) was the only northern report. 12 Tundra Swans in Washington 17 Dec (DAB) were Minnesota’s last southbound birds, while 3 in Scott 22 Feb were the first northward migrants. Tundra Swans continue to winter in large numbers along Michigan’s Lake Erie shoreline, with a peak of 2275 in Wayne 22 Dec (JK). The only Eurasian Wigeon was in Monroe, MI 18 Feb+ (DS, m.ob.). A pair of American Wigeon in Cook, MN 28 Dec—1 Jan (SN, DLB) lingered later than normal. Blue-winged Teal are regionally rare in winter. They were found in Michigan’s Kalamazoo and Van Buren, as well as in Isanti, MN 22 Dec (3 birds; JS), and single reports came in Manitowoc, WI 9 Dec & 29 Jan (CS). When open water persists, large numbers of Northern Shovelers continue to frequent Muskegon, MI, peaking at 2000 on 1 Dec (MM). Michigan also harbored large concentrations of both Canvasback and Redhead. Canvasback totals reached 40,000 in Macomb and 49,631 in Monroe (JJ), while Redhead totals peaked at 5,000 in Mackinac 30 Dec (PSW) and 4000 in St. Clair 14 Jan. A continuing King Eider from fall remained in Milwaukee, WI. Harlequin Ducks were found in all 3 states. Surf Scoter went unrecorded in Minnesota, but was present in low numbers in both Wisconsin and Michigan. Wisconsin birders found Black Scoters in 6 counties, with a peak of 20 in Milwaukee (LH). In Minnesota, only 6 Black Scoters were reported from 4 counties near the Twin Cities, persisting as late as 13 Dec. Michigan’s largest Long-tailed Duck flock was 7500 in Ottawa 12 Jan (CJM). Minnesota hosted the only Barrow’s Goldeneyes: a female in Otter Tail 24 Dec—17 Jan (MJB, LiH, WP); and, presumably, one male that was seen from various sites along the Mississippi River in Wright, Anoka, and Hennepin 7 Jan—14 Feb (CLL, AR, JW, m.ob.). High counts of Ruddy Ducks included 800 in Wayne, MI 22 Dec (JK), 500 in Muskegon, MI 3 Dec (LC), and 377 in Rock, WI (QY).

No reports of Northern Bobwhite—even of semi-wild birds—were received this season; this species has declined precipitously in Michigan and perhaps is no longer a truly established species there. Wisconsin’s only Gray Partridge reports were from Grant, 3 on 21 Dec (KD) and another on 19 Feb (AH). An impressive 30 Spruce Grouse were recorded during a 20-mile survey of the Baraga Plains, Baraga, MI 22 Jan (DN, DM). Equally impressive were 92 Sharp-tailed Grouse on Neebish Island, Chippewa, MI 23 Dec (DL, m.ob.). A lone Horned Grebe overwintered in Lake, MN, while the only Eared Grebe was in Dane, WI. A Western Grebe in Ottawa, MI 26 Dec (CJM) was found deceased on 28 Dec; Wisconsin also had a Western Grebe in Milwaukee. Michigan’s only Eurasian Collared-Doves continued in Berrien. The White-winged Dove found in the fall continued to 4 Dec in Anoka, MN. All 3 states hosted Rufous Hummingbirds. In Minnesota, one from mid-Oct lingered to 2 Dec in Isanti (JaB). Wisconsin had a hatch-year female in Dane, while one was captured in Michigan’s Oakland late Dec and later released on 2 Jan. In Wisconsin, 5 Virginia Rails were in Columbia (QY) and 2 in Walworth (EH, KW), all on 31 Dec; a cold Virginia Rail was found in Gladwin, MI 22 Jan (RK, DB, JP). Wisconsin and Michigan reported large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in Dec, with 4500 in Dane 8 Dec (AP) and 1721 in Eaton 4 Dec (BW), respectively. Many record-early northbound Sandhill Cranes began arriving in Washington, MN 19 Feb (JZ, GJ). A late Black-bellied Plover lingered to 3 Dec in Ashland, WI (TO). A few hardy Killdeer lingered into early Dec, one overwintered in Olmsted, MN, and then early migrants started returning around 19 Feb. Michigan birders found 3 Dunlin, singles in Lenawee 7 Dec (RF), St. Clair 17 Dec (PB), and Monroe 18 Dec (TP, JJ). The only Purple Sandpiper was in Alger, MI on 15 Dec (SH, MS). Very early American Woodcocks returned to Minnesota’s Houston 20 Feb (KAB), Rice 21 Feb (TFB), and Olmsted 22 Feb (JWH). Woodcocks arrived in southern Michigan in late Feb, with a rather northerly record in Grand Traverse 22 Feb (MJ). A record-early Greater Yellowlegs was in Dakota, MN 21 Feb (PN, m.ob.).


Holland SP, Ottawa, MI produced the season’s only Black-legged Kittiwake and Little Gull, on 15 Jan (KVV) and 17 Jan (CJM), respectively. Laughing Gulls are unusual anywhere during the winter months, so Jan reports in Winnebago, WI and Alcona, MI were noteworthy. A high count of 6500 Ring-billed Gulls in Minneapolis was notable for 2 Dec (BAF). A California Gull was in Winnebago, WI 16 Jan (SM). Iceland Gull now has a completely different meaning, which will still be a challenge for the Great Lakes region. In Duluth, MN, Iceland Gulls were found throughout the season, with a peak of 3 “Kumlien’s” (SK, TR) and 16 “Thayer’s” (MLH) on 29 Jan. Both Wisconsin and Michigan reported good numbers of both forms, as well. Lesser Black-backed Gulls continue to be common in Michigan and Wisconsin, while Minnesota had only one, an adult, in Minneapolis 7 Dec (DWK, BAF). An adult Slaty-backed Gull was reported in mid-Feb in Milwaukee, WI. Glaucous Gulls showed in good numbers to the north, with peaks of 12 in Chippewa, MI 3 Jan (JL, JLa) and 8 in St. Louis, MN 28—29 Jan (JLK, m.ob.).

Michigan birders found Red-throated Loons at 6 Lake Michigan locations, with a peak of 8 in Berrien 26 Dec (AMB); they were also reported in Chippewa and Marquette along Lake Superior. In Wisconsin, Red-throateds were only reported from 4 counties, with a peak of 4 in Milwaukee 7 Dec (JiK, WM). A Cattle Egret that continued in Dodge to 3 Dec and a Black-crowned Night-Heron in Brown 20 Dec (JSw) were both late for Wisconsin. Regionally, wintering Turkey Vultures are unique to Michigan, especially in the state’s southeast; this season, they continued there in low numbers. In Wisconsin, a few vultures lingered into early Dec, and many spring migrants returned by the end of Feb. Minnesota birders reported a similar pattern, with rather early vultures in Washington 19 Feb (EH) and Becker 21 Feb (SG, HH).

Minnesota had more mid-winter Golden Eagle reports than usual, including from 4 northern and 5 southern counties in Jan; a probable migrant was in St. Louis 21 Feb (TR). Snowy Owl numbers were down this season, typical of a non-invasion year. Wisconsin had a Northern Hawk Owl in Bayfield 17 Feb (RyB). Minnesota Northern Hawk Owls started to arrive in mid-Dec, but the majority of records began in mid-Jan, with most these from the northwestern part of the state. Great Gray Owls were found in 10 Minnesota counties, but went unrecorded in Wisconsin and Michigan. Boreal Owls were in Lake 3 Feb (JWL, SLL) and Cook 28 Feb (DLB), both MN. Dozens of early winter Yellow-bellied Sapsucker records in southern Michigan were above normal, while early Feb reports in Minnesota’s Dakota and Hennepin suggested possible overwintering. The only American Three-toed Woodpeckers were in Minnesota’s Beltrami and Lake in Dec and St. Louis in mid-Feb. A Crested Caracara frequented some bait piles in Delta, MI 6 Feb+ (p.a.) (JKa, m.ob.). Gyrfalcons were in Douglas, WI 22 Jan (PHS) and Lake of the Woods, MN 23 Feb (LB). A Prairie Falcon was in Lincoln, MN 16 Jan (TC).


Eastern Phoebes were in Calhoun 18 Feb (BH) and Jackson 17 Dec (RDH) and 21—22 Feb (LA, RG), all Michigan. The only Black-billed Magpie away from Minnesota was in Douglas, WI. Up to 4 Fish Crows continued in Berrien, MI. An early Tree Swallow was noted in Macomb, MI 23 Feb (TH). Boreal Chickadees remain scarce in Michigan, with the only reports from Marquette; Minnesota reported Boreals from 6 counties. Up to 2 Marsh Wrens wintered in Macomb, MI, while Minnesota had a late migrant in Lyon 4 Dec (GW). 3 Carolina Wrens overwintered in Minnesota, where the species is still rather uncommon. Wisconsin had a lingering Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Door (KL, MW) and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Waukesha 17 Dec (PK, SS). Similarly, Michigan had a late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Macomb 9 Dec (AHo), and at least 10 Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A cooperative adult male Mountain Bluebird was in Macomb, MI 9—31 Dec (AHo, m.ob.). Both Townsend’s Solitaires and Varied Thrushes were found in all 3 states. In Minnesota, solitaires were quite numerous, with around 23 individuals in 16 counties, and Varied Thrush were found in 6 counties. Wisconsin had multiple reports of single solitaires and one report of 2 on 27 Dec (AaH), all in Sauk, and Varied Thrushes in 4 counties. Michigan reported solitaires in 6 counties and a single Varied Thrush in Alcona 14 Feb (PO, TH, CB). Gray Catbirds were found in 4 Wisconsin counties, with an early spring migrant in Racine 23 Feb (HP). Michigan had at least 8 catbirds, including an unusual Upper Peninsula record in Marquette 23 Feb (MSt), while Minnesota had a single catbird in Cass 17 Dec (DAY). Minnesota’s fifth Curve-billed Thrasher was found in Itasca mid-Dec—8 Jan (MDC, m.ob.). Brown Thrashers were reported in all 3 states. Single Northern Mockingbirds were in Grant, WI and St. Louis, MN; mockingbirds are rare, but present, across the southern tier of Michigan counties.

Bohemian Waxwings were widespread in northern Minnesota, reports south to Chisago 13 Dec (MT), Goodhue 1—2 Dec (CRM, m.ob.), and Stearns 11 Feb (PCC, HHD, DO). Wisconsin reported Bohemians in 20 counties, while Michigan’s reports were mostly in the north half of the state, with a peak of 2000 in Chippewa. A Eurasian Tree Sparrow was in Lake, MN 21 Nov—21 Feb (JWL, JPR, PHS), while Wisconsin had reports from 4 counties. An American Pipit in St. Louis 9 Dec was record late for northern Minnesota; Wisconsin and Michigan had birds linger to 18 Dec and 19 Dec, respectively. Winter finches were overall scarce. In Minnesota, Hoary Redpolls were restricted to 6 northern counties, while Michigan had only 3 reports from Chippewa and Wisconsin had one in Oneida 11 Feb (JSw, DVD). An Orange-crowned Warbler lingered to 1 Dec in Richland, WI (MW), and Michigan had reports from Monroe 5 Dec (PB, KO) and Barry 6 Jan (RW). Other hardy Michigan warblers were a Common Yellowthroat in Calhoun 17 Feb (DT, LD), a Palm Warbler in Monroe 5 Dec (PB, KO), and a Pine Warbler in Oakland 26 Feb (DF). Wisconsin hosted a Pine Warbler in Dane 17 Dec (JKr) and a Townsend’s Warbler that was present in Kewaunee during early Dec. Minnesota had Yellow-rumped Warblers in Redwood 3 Dec (BTS), Kittson 21 Dec (LW), and Lyon 18 Jan (GW), along with a record-late Black-throated Blue Warbler in Hennepin, MN 11 Dec (DSc).

Wisconsin had Eastern Towhees in Dane 29 Dec—28 Jan (JeS) and Brown 29 Jan+ (AN).  Other noteworthy Wisconsin sparrows were a Chipping Sparrow that lingered to 4 Jan in Dodge (DaS) and Savannah Sparrows in 6 counties, with a max of 3 in Ozaukee 6 Feb (LHo). Minnesota had Chipping Sparrows in Meeker 26 Dec (BN) and Ramsey, as well as a Savannah Sparrow in Houston 31 Dec (ABL). Not to be excluded, Michigan birders reported Chipping Sparrows in Washtenaw 11 Dec—3 Feb (WW), Macomb 17 Dec (BMM), Huron 20 Dec (RD, JSo), and Calhoun 14 Feb (ABi), as well as 2 Savannah Sparrows in Washtenaw 21 Feb (AR) and singles in Monroe 26 Dec (LyH) and Marquette 14 Dec (JF). Reports of winter Lincoln’s Sparrow seem to be increasing. This year, Minnesota had one overwinter in Hubbard (RE), as well as singles in St. Louis 13 Dec (JLK) and Fillmore 2 Jan (DeB). Michigan had 3 Lincoln’s Sparrow records, singles in St. Clair 21 Dec (RK), Chippewa 31 Dec+ (JL, m.obs.), and Washtenaw 8 Jan (HT). Minnesota had Harris’s Sparrows in 6 counties during Jan and Feb, while Michigan’s only record was in Iosco 29 Dec (GH). Minnesota’s lingering Golden-crowned Sparrow in St. Louis was present to 25 Jan (JN). A single Summer Tanager visited a Wisconsin feeder in Dane during mid-Dec (JY). Minnesota hosted 3 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks during the period: an adult female in Ramsey 4-10 Dec (MWR), an immature male in Houston to 14 Dec (KR), and a male in Mower 19 Dec (RWa). More unusual, though, was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak that showed up in Grant, WI 26 Feb (CT). Meadowlarks are regularly reported in Michigan during the winter months, and most birders presume they are Easterns. However, at least 2 Western Meadowlarks were carefully identified—singles in Chippewa 15 Jan—11 Feb (AR, m.ob.) and Branch 6 Feb (FZ); this further emphasizes why winter meadowlarks should not be assumed to be Eastern! A Yellow-headed Blackbird was in Lyon, MN 18 Dec (GW). Brewer’s Blackbirds are uncommon during the winter, so to have reports from all 3 states was noteworthy. Minnesota had 3: an unusual mid-winter bird in St. Louis 16—26 Jan (PHS, FJN, m.ob.), a presumed early migrant in Meeker 25 Feb (MJB), and 3 early migrants in Lyon 25 Feb (GW). Wisconsin had singles in Polk 6 Dec (AHa) and Waukesha 24 Dec (ASz), and 4 in Dodge 20 Feb (JFr). Michigan birders found singles in Berrien 17 Dec (WG), Monroe 7 Feb (GL), and Ionia 24 Feb (KT). A late Baltimore Oriole was in Renville, MN 8 Dec (RAE), and Michigan’s Bullock’s Oriole from fall lingered to 3 Dec in Ontonagon.

Report processed by Alison Világ, 13 Nov 2020