Ornithologist Goes Cross-State Trekking For Wisconsin’s Birds


Bill Mueller, a veteran ornithologist, began a walk across Wisconsin today.

He hopes to shine a spotlight on the decline of some bird species in the state, and raise money for projects that help birds.

On a beach north of Port Washington, Bill Mueller has his binoculars out and over the course of a few minutes, identifies the bird species that he sees.

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Mueller writes the names of the birds in a notebook, walks over to put his hand in Lake Michigan, and then begins to walk west. Over the next three weeks, Mueller hopes to hike trails and lightly traveled roads all the way to the Mississippi River, cataloging the bird species he hears and sees along the way.

Mueller says one reason he’s on the journey is that many birds aren’t doing all that well.

“One-third of bird species are in decline. People need to learn about that because there’s a lot that is happening to help to deal with some of those problems, and there’s a lot that needs to happen.”

Mueller’s statewide walk also will bring in at least $4,000 in pledges. The money will go to the Natural Resources Foundation‘s bird protection fund, as part of the foundation’s annual Great Wisconsin Birdathon that hopes to raise $40,000.

Friends of Miller will occasionally join him on the walk. This morning, Noel Cutright of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology was on hand, partly to tease his fellow bird watcher: “He’s crazy!”

But Cutright add that Mueller’s mission is important and possibly unique:

“I don’t know of anyone in Wisconsin who’s ever done a walk to raise money for bird conservation. Trying to do a trip coast to coast across southern Wisconsin is a pretty wild endeavor.”

Mueller isn’t just someone who documents bird species. He will speak about birds with a passion – even for the robin:

“For a very common bird, people get used to it. It’s always in their yards. But it’s actually a lovely singer. [It’s] one of the most beautiful bird songs of the common birds that we have.”

Mueller says his interest in birds started when he was seven years old, when an aunt gave him a set of bird books. Now, almost sixty years later, he will be walking about ten miles a day for birds, in part because his daughter recently gave him a verbal push: “Hannah, who’s twenty, turns to me and says, ‘So dad, what are you waiting for? Are you waiting until you actually can’t do it?’”

Mueller hopes to make it as far as the Village of Fredonia tonight.