This county park on the shores of Lake Michigan just south of Milwaukee is where to see waterfowl, woodpeckers, and unpredictable, beautiful winter finches.
By Betsy Abert | Published: 10/16/2013
Grant Park’s 381 acres are one link in a chain of parks that preserve vitally important stopover habitat for birds in Milwaukee County. The park’s creation a century ago guaranteed protection of tall bluffs and towering maple-beech woods sprinkled with evergreens, such as white pine and tamarack.
I enjoy the cross-seasonal diversity afforded by the lake frontage, which is over a mile long. Christmas Bird Counts often tally thousands of diving ducks just offshore. Last winter, Townsend’s Solitaire, Bohemian Waxwing, and Evening Grosbeak were surprise visitors.
Spring migration raises the specter of fallouts. Bluff trees warmed by the rising sun fuel great hatches of gnats that attract hungry passerines winging in off the lake. Vernal ponds and spring-fed wetlands punctuate winding ravines. Waterthrushes work the edges, and Marsh Wrens “hide loudly” among marsh marigold and skunk cabbage. The spots attract a great variety of passerines during the April-to-June push, and if you are quiet enough, you may view four or five species bathing in one small area simultaneously. — Betsy Abert
Betsy Abert is a landscape designer who birds Grant Park regularly. She is a member of Friends of Grant Park and coordinates bird walks on Sundays in spring.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Maple-beech woods, evergreens, ponds, bluffs, ravines, Lake Michigan shoreline.
A mix of flat and hilly trails and park roads.
Wood Duck, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Common, Hooded, and Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, White-winged and Surf Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, American Wigeon, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Blue and Green Herons, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Caspian Tern, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Great Crested and Least Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskin, 30 warbler species, vireos, thrushes, kinglets, and swallows. Rarities: Barrow’s Goldeneye, Townsend’s Solitaire, Bohemian Waxwing, Evening Grosbeak.
When to go
Bird walks every Sunday morning in spring. Golf course clubhouse at south end of park has food in summer and restrooms year-round. In summer, restrooms also available in other sections of park. Trail with seven rustic foot-bridges leads to beach.
County park. No fees. Open 6-10. Several parking lots.
Check inland ponds for Wood Duck. In September and October, migrating raptors visible from a lakeshore overlook in a section of the park known as Area 5. In winter, bring a spotting scope to watch waterfowl on Lake Michigan.
For more info
Milwaukee County Parks, (414) 257-7275.
1.5 miles north of Grant Park, just east of S. Lake Dr. In May gaze down on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan where passerines are surprisingly close.
Five miles north of Grant Park on S. Shore Dr. Notable for a breakwall that allows great looks at ducks, rare gulls, and Snowy Owls in winter.