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Horicon Marsh is one of the best kept secrets in Wisconsin, if not the USA, for birding. It is the largest fresh water cattail marsh in the US, covering over 32,000 acres. The northern 2/3 of the marsh is a National Wildlife Refuge and the southern 1/3 is a State Wildlife Area. Boats are permitted in the State Wildlife Area only.
The marsh has a has large breeding flock of American White Pelican Spring through Fall. Large flocks of Sandhill Crane. Over 260 species have been seen at the Marsh. One million Canada Geese migrate through the marsh every year, as well as many other waterbirds. In Spring and Summer, breeding groups of Whooping Cranes are present. Marsh birds such as rails and Marsh Wrens breed here in large numbers. Horicon is the only place in the Midwest where King Rails and Black-necked Stilts breed. On the north end of the marsh, there is a large prairie with species such as Bobolink, Sedge Wren and Henslow's Sparrow.
Rare waterbirds such as Red-necked Phalarope, Ruff, White-faced Ibis, and Neotropic Cormorant turn up here frequently. In 2019, the first North American breeding record of Glossy Ibis away from the Atlantic Ocean was recorded here, and it is likely there is a small population here.
Birds you can see here include:
308 bird species have been recorded on the marsh. The list can be seen here: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/documents/horicon/checklist.pdf (The checklist says 306, but since it was made Eurasian Collared-Dove and Mountain Bluebird have been recorded here).
American Minks and Common Muskrats are frequently sighted here, as are many types of frogs and turtles. The marsh and surrounding areas are reliable for Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. The Eastern Chipmunks at this location are notoriously tame.
History and Use
Areas of Interest
The Horicon Auto-Tour on the northwestern edge of the marsh is the most species-rich area of the marsh, taking you through the marsh where waterfowl, shorebirds, and marsh birds such as rails are abundant, a deciduous forest filled with warblers in the spring, and a large prairie featuring many rare and declining prairie birds such as Sedge Wren, Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and others.
Highway 49 cuts right through the north end of the marsh, and many secretive birds such as bitterns, night-herons, coots, and others may be seen from here. In spring and fall, hundreds of waterfowl may be seen from the highway as well.
Old Marsh Road also goes right through the National Wildlife Refuge. While no longer used for cars, it can be walked or biked (although it closes every August and reopens in June). It goes all the way through the marsh in an east-west direction. This is one of the most reliable spots in the marsh for birds such as bitterns, terns, gallinules, Wilson's Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. It can be accessed from the western end through the Auto-Tour or from Point Road in the east.
Ledge Road is about a mile south of Old Marsh Road, and here many marsh birds can be view up close. Point Road and the nearby Bud Cook Trail are other good locations for prairie species.
The Horicon Marsh Visitor Center is on the southeastern edge of the NWR. The area around it often has swans and Wilson's Snipes. In migration and winter, Rusty Blackbird is reliable here. The field on the north side of Headquarters Road coming in occasionally has a flock of Whooping Cranes.
In the State Wildlife Area, the International Education Center is a great spot for waterfowl during migration (a Canada Goose x Snow Goose hybrid is reliable here). The nearby Storybook Trail is great for warblers in thr spring. The overlook on North Palmatory Street is good for waterfowl and gulls.
Access and Facilities
- Birding tours via pontoon boat are available out of the town of Horicon. You can also Kayak and canoe launch at various locations.
- Visitor Center hours: Mon-Fri 7:30am-4:00pm
- Best place to stay and eat is the Audubon Inn in Mayville.
W4279 Headquarters Rd
Mayville, WI 53050
Email: [email protected]
Content and images originally posted by bobogado
bobogado's review 1/14/07: Spotted my first Tundra Swan on north end of marsh
- Only 2-3 hours from Chicago. An hour and a half from Milwaukee.