Northeast Wisconsin Birders Catch Rare Glimpse Of White-Winged Tern

Weekend Sighting First In State In More Than 140 Years

Rob Knight (CC-BY)

A sighting of a rare white-winged tern over Lake Michigan near Manitowoc caused a stir among area birders Saturday.

Mark Hodgson, of Madison, and Charles Sontag, of Manitowoc, both saw the bird and agreed it was a white-winged tern, not a black one that is commonly seen in the area.

“This was an enormous find because the bird is not found in this area of the world. It’s a Eurasian species that winters in Africa and probably Australia,” said Sontag, who watches and documents birds near Lake Michigan every day.

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The two posted their sightings on online bird sites and within half an hour, bird watchers were descending on the shores of Lake Michigan to see it for themselves.

Sontag said it’s good there were two sets of eyes, otherwise he says no one would believe him.

“They would say, ‘Oh gee, that’s pretty good but we’re going to have to check that one out.’ It really is that unusual,” he said.

The last time a white-winged tern was found in Wisconsin was in 1873, a sighting that was only verified because the bird was shot.

Sontag doesn’t know how the tern ended up in Manitowoc, but guessed it has moved on from the area, possibly migrating with a flock of black terns.