Life-List Highlights

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on November 16th, 2016

Both within and beyond the Woodson Art Museum galleries, I enjoy bird watching and learning about our feathered friends. Like many fellow contemporary birders, I post my sightings to eBird, a website and mobile app developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in New York. In addition to keeping track of all of the birds that I observe and post to my account, additional data is included, such as the time and location of each sighting.

The eBird software not only helps me keep tabs on my life list of all of the birds I’ve seen, but also helps me develop lists of birds I’ve identified in Marathon County, Wisconsin, the USA, and internationally, too. The beauty of such lists is that all of the information can be used by other birders and scientists to identify trends and track the health and movements of certain species.


Occasionally, an unusual bird is sighted in the state and when posted, eBird alerts regional birders who may be interested in viewing it and adding it to their bird lists.  A couple of weeks ago a purple gallinule was spotted in a marsh area near Mauston, Wisconsin, just west of Wisconsin Dells. This unusual multicolored bird with light- to deep-blue patches has iridescent green wings, a white rump, and a candy-corn shaped and colored bill. Its unusually large feet allow the bird to walk on lily pads in search of food. This one near Mauston was hanging around a few mallards that were hiding in the reeds waiting for locals to feed them bread.

So why would a bird normally found in the tropics make its way to Wisconsin? One theory about this unusual migrant is that the strong winds of Hurricane Matthew may have pushed it north. My wife and I were concerned that it might not know to migrate south. We have no way of knowing the fate of this beautiful creature.


The window of opportunity to see a purple gallinule in the Mauston marsh extended to nearly two weeks before it no longer was sighted. I was lucky because it stayed around for so long. I was able to see it briefly during its second weekend in Mauston while I was on my way to Madison. It was a great bird to add to my state list.


Speaking of narrowing windows of opportunity, this year’s Birds in Art remains on view just a few more days through Sunday, November 27. Be sure to stop in and see Birds in Art 2016 before it closes and sixty of the artworks migrate on tour to South Carolina, Texas, New York, and California throughout the next year.

Whether or not you’re a birder, visit the Woodson Art Museum on or before November 27 to experience Birds in Art, a must-see highlight for your exhibition life list.

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