Birds and Other Wildlife
The Upper Mississippi River Valley along the Wisconsin Great River Road is one of the most important places for birds and wildlife in North America.
The Wisconsin Great River Road runs through the center of the Mississippi River Flyway, a superhighway for migrating birds, such as songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors. And during the summer, it is one of the most important nesting areas in North America for a number of bird species.
It is not only the river that attracts the birds, but it’s the protected forests, wetlands and prairies that line nearly two-thirds of the Wisconsin Great River Road National Scenic Byway route. Beaver, muskrat, otter, white-tailed deer, fox, coyote and other mammals thrive along the Wisconsin Great River Road. More than 145 species of amphibians and reptiles live in and along the Upper Mississippi River. There is no other place in the Midwest that offers such diversity.
Below are some tools to help you plan your Wisconsin Great River Road birdwatching or wildlife viewing expedition.
Birding Hot Spots
A large portion of the Wisconsin Great River Road runs through our along this 260-mile refuge, which is part of the Mississippi River Flyway.
Located just two miles south of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, the park is perhaps the best place in Wisconsin for Kentucky, Cerulean and Yellow-throated Warblers. Other populations include Prothonotary Warblers, Bell’s Vireos, Henslow’s Sparrows, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Bald Eagles. Stop at the park office for a vehicle admission sticker (required), current birding information, and directions to the Passenger Pigeon Monument.
The bottomland forests and wetlands around Nelson provide outstanding birdwatching opportunities. You’ll find birdwatching all along Highway 35/Wisconsin Great River Road as well as along Highway 25 and up through the bluffs.
This 6,200-acre preserve just north of Trempealeau offers a four-mile wildlife driving tour, an interpretive center, and an observation deck. A diverse habitat shelters 29 warbler species and 100 bird species at the height of migration. In prairie and woodland habitat, watch for Grasshopper, Lark, Savannah Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Cuckoos, Sandhill Cranes, Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Northern Shrike, Pileated Woodpeckers, American Woodcocks, Northern Harriers, Hawks, Accipiters and Owls. In open water and slough areas watch for Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Tundra Swans, White Pelicans, Forster’s Terns, Sora and Virginia Rails and Cormorants, as well as Mergansers and Dabblers in spring and fall. Maps of the refuge are available at the interpretive center and at kiosks in the refuge.
Located in Prairie du Chien, St. Feriole Island offers 240 acres of history, natural beauty and great birding. The forests and intermittently flooded prairies teem with wildlife. St. Feriole Island and the nearby Welcome Center are great places to see Bald Eagles throughout the year.
Perched on a bluff 500 feet above the Mississippi at Alma, Buena Vista Park is one of the best public viewing areas in Wisconsin for migrating raptors. Watch for Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and Broad-winged Hawks (Aug-Sept). In fall, watch for Merlins, American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Coopers Hawks. Open water below Lock and Dam #4 makes this a great spot in the winter for watching Bald Eagles fishing in the river. The park also harbors Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Hairy Woodpeckers and Ruffed Grouse.
Blue heron, egrets, kingfishers and more await the birder at this state park located on the Mississippi River. Birdwatching opportunities are available throughout the 322-acre park.
Just two miles north of Alma, this park is the best spot on the Mississippi River to get up-close views of migrating waterfowl in the fall. Take a short drive up Hwy. 37 along the Buffalo River to see wintering Golden Eagles.
Located in Prescott, the center is situated near the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, making it an ideal place to view bald eagles and other raptors. You’ll find mounted telescopes for great river views. The center also hosts occasional presentations by The Raptor Center from the nearby Twin Cities.