An interview with bird expert and ornithologist, Steve Betchkal

The Chippewa Valley boasts some of the most breathtaking natural beauty and scenery in Northwest Wisconsin. Most of this beauty comes in the form of valleys, rivers, forests and lakes, but these aren’t the only natural wonders in this region of Wisconsin. 

This region is home to a vast variety of bird species, so much so that the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona have both received the prestigious designations of ‘Bird City Wisconsin’. Bird City Wisconsin is an organization that provides public recognition to cities that make efforts to provide habitat protection, sustainability, and general public education of birds. For the second year in a row, Eau Claire has received the special recognition of a ‘High Flyer’ Bird City, an award only given to only 25 cities in Wisconsin that have gone above and beyond for local conservation and education.

“The Chippewa Valley is a popular home to a vast variety of bird species because of how unique the landscape is”, said local bird expert and ornithologist, Steve Betchkal. “The more diverse the habitat, the more birds there will usually be in that area.” The region has remained home to many of the birds because of the city's efforts to preserve habitats for them, thus receiving the designation of a ‘High Flyer’ Bird City. “The city of Eau Claire and Altoona have done some things to really help promote birds in the area,” said Betchkal. “I applaud them because they have taken birds to heart and understand how important they are to improving quality of life.”

Betchkal has seen over 1,000 different species of birds in his lifetime and published multiple books and articles on ornithology (the study of birds). He has spent over 53 years studying birds, with most of this time being in The Chippewa Valley and Wisconsin. Betchkal states that although bird watching can be done all over the Chippewa Valley, there are certain spots that take the cake when it comes to the quantity and variety of birds you can see.

Best Places to Bird Watch in the Chippewa Valley

1. Putnam Park

Putnam Park is situated in a dense forest that extends in a long curving, narrow strip around the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. White and red pine trees dominate this forest, attracting many different types of local birds.“It’s a very nice forest that follows the river corridor, you can walk through almost a mile there and you can find a bunch of neat birds, especially on the west side of the university,” said Betchkal.

Common birds in this habitat: Pine Warblers, Tufted Titmice, Bald Eagles, Ring-Billed Gulls, Purple Finches, and Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers

Photo: Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Tirmouse bird perched on a branch

2. Carson Park

Carson Park is almost completely surrounded by the waters of Half Moon Lake. It is home to one of the most varied landscapes in Eau Claire, which attracts a great variety of birds. Mixed coniferous woods, wetlands, and the surrounding lake entice birds of all different sizes. “Carson park has some unique species because of the diverse habitat that is all around the park,” Said Betchkal. “There’s this weird mix of birds that you can find there because you have that mix of forest and water.”

Common birds in this habitat: Barred Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Pine Warblers, Merlins, Bald Eagles, Cooper's Hawks, Ospreys, Loons, Orchid Orioles, Herons, Egrets

Photo: Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk bird

3. River Prairie

Hence its name, River Prairie used to be a large grassland that inhabited many types of prairie birds. In recent years, the area has undergone quick modern development, but River Prairie still remains one of the best spots in the region to view many different species of birds. “River prairie is developing really fast but they are trying to preserve the beauty of it,” Betchkal said. “There is still a lot of habitat for birds, especially in the areas along the river.”

Common birds found in this habitat: Bald Eagles, Lark Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbird, Killdeer, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Red-Breasted Nuthatches

Photo: Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle perched on a tree branch


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