WSO Menu

Promoting the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds.

Rare duck is young birder's Christmas present

By Nathaniel Wegner

A great thing about birding is you never know what you’re going to see on any particular day.    

When thinking about where to bird on Sunday, Dec. 26, finding an Iceland Gull was on my mind, but otherwise I didn’t really have any specific birds I was after, so we decided to visit some of our regular winter birding spots along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee.

After striking out on an Iceland Gull at the Lake Express ferry, we headed to Petroleum Pier, where I immediately scoped the pier and saw a Snowy Owl! One of my favorite birds, a Snowy is always a thrill to see, but little did I know that wouldn’t be my bird of the day.

As I panned my scope from the pier to the water, I saw a mixed group of scaup. Scanning through the group, I noticed that one of the birds looked off – there was a tuft on the back of its head. Moments later, the realization of what this could be hit me, and I frantically waved to my dad to come over. I told him, “I think I might be looking at the rarest bird I’ve ever found.”

RARE <b>Tufted Duck</b> photo 1 22

I then attempted to get photos through my scope even though my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I texted photos to others to see if I was correct in thinking the bird I was looking at was a Tufted Duck, and my hopes were soon confirmed!

It has been 4½ years since I started birding at age 12, when we visited the Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Green Bay. Since then, I’ve switched my focus to birding my home county of Milwaukee. It’s been a dream of mine to one day find a first for the county; what a wonderful Christmas gift it was for that to happen this year!

Scores of birders have since flocked to add the bird Nathaniel found to their county, state and ABA life lists. If accepted by the WSO Records Committee, the Tufted Duck would be just the third record in Wisconsin.