The Twitcher: A birding column

Bird of the week: Red-tailed Hawk

About: One of the most widespread raptors in North America. Has a brown back and head with white under wings and belly with brown streaking and a red tail!

Where to find this bird: Will perch on large buildings, power poles and trees; hunts for rodents in open areas, such as Main Hall Green. 

When to find this bird: Year-round

Fun fact: A red-tailed hawk’s call is a dramatic scream, which Hollywood movies often use as the call for any raptor they portray, including eagles, which have a much more innocent and melodious call. 

A red-tailed hawk  perched on a tree, surveying the land. Photo by Kai Frueh.

An interview with Wisconsin’s Green Birding Champion

One of Lawrence’s neighbors is Wisconsin’s Green Birding Champion. I met Ross Mueller out birding last year, and we’ve had a lot of fun birding together ever since. Last week I sat down with Mueller to find out more about green birding. Here is our conversation:

What is green birding, and what is the Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge?

Green birding started in 2006 with two birders in Montreal, Canada, and they enjoyed it and issued a national challenge which became international. The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO) started it in 2010, but it was informal with no real supervisor and no real records. The first records actually were the year I started, in 2013. 

Going back to the history, the purpose of green birding is to see how many birds you can see in a calendar year without using petroleum from a fixed location, usually your home. So that means biking, walking, kayaking. There are normally probably 30, 35 participants each year in Wisconsin, which has been quite constant through the years.

How did you start green birding?

I love to bird and I love to bike and it’s a natural fit. I’ve been birding since the third grade and I’m in my eighties. I remember the instant that I discovered I really enjoyed birds. My parents got me a basic bird book, John Kieran’s, I still [have] the book actually, and they had pictures of the common birds, and I identified a white-breasted nuthatch from that book. I saw one on the bark of a cottonwood tree, and it went from there.

Do you have an all-time list of your green birding species?

Yeah, I’ve got a summary. My total would be 266 over the 10 years. So, I started green birding in 2013, and I have walked over 130 miles and cycled 11,486 miles in the 10 years since. 

What’s the furthest you traveled from Appleton?

From Appleton, 80 miles. But I’m fortunate that I have a cabin 50 miles away, which is not that hard of a ride, near Hartman Creek State Park. So then I can bike there and use my cabin as a base of operation which can get me into central Wisconsin, and the Buena Vista grasslands, and Hartman Creek State Park, which has totally different birds than we have here. And then I have relatives in Greenbush, Wisconsin, which is 47 miles away, and that’s in the heart of the North Kettle Moraine forest, which has its own population of really good birds, different from around here. And that place is 25 miles from the shore of Lake Michigan, which can be excellent for shorebirds and gulls. I’d say my average ride would probably be 15 to 25 miles when I’m not just doing local birding.

What is your favorite spot to go for green birding?

It does vary. I mean, I love to go to High Cliff for warblers in May. In March, I love to go to the north shore of Lake Winnebago with my scope and look for waterfowl. So my favorite spot depends on the time of the year. 

What is one of your favorite experiences while green birding?

Oh, man. Oh, I think one of my favorites was doing a 62-mile ride to Killsnake State Wildlife Area, which is near Brillion. That was in my best year, which was in 2016, when I actually had the current record of 242. I really wanted to get short-eared owl, and it hadn’t been seen out by Shady Lane, so I left here at 1 [p.m.] and I rode 32 miles. I got into the Killsnake area at about 3:15 or 3:45, I saw two short-eared owls, and that was a high. But the real high was biking home because it got dark early. But I had really good lights on my bike. I had a long way to go. I saw a gorgeous sunset in the west and I looked off to the east and it was one of those full moon nights. It was a cycling high. It was coming back in the dark after success.

What would you say to people interested in starting green birding, and how can people get involved with the Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge?

Go to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology website and check out the Green Birding page (