Wildlife at Horicon Marsh

Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

One of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States, Horicon Marsh offers a plethora of wildlife. Located in the southeastern quadrant of Wisconsin, U.S.A., and covering 32,000 acres (12,949 ha), the marsh is a critical rest stop for migrating birds.

Wikipedia Horicon Marsh. 

I love the solitude and beauty of this marsh, have written posts outlining how it was shaped: first by the glaciers, then by humans. But today I’m focusing just on the wildlife, because this is what I find so enchanting.

Previously written post: Horicon Marsh

Common Yellowthroat, Horicon Marsh

Painted Turtle, Horicon Marsh

Black Tern, Horicon Marsh

One of the most elegant terns on earth, the black tern migrates to North America from South America, and breeds at the Horicon Marsh, as well as other sites in northern U.S. and Canada.


Forster’s terns also breed at the Horicon Marsh.

Forster’s Tern, Horicon Marsh


Trumpeter Swans and cygnets, Horicon Marsh

Trumpeter Swans nest here too. This bird nearly went extinct, but has had a successful reintroduction. In 1933, there were fewer than 70 trumpeters living; today there are approximately 46,000 (Wikipedia).


And cranes! There are only two crane species in North America, and I’ve seen them both here at this marsh. There are few places of which this can be said.


In summer, sandhill cranes can often be seen at the marsh or in nearby fields, most often in pairs. The wild whooping cranes, however, were a rare sighting; they are an endangered species.


Whooping Cranes, Horicon NWR, Wisc.

In 1941 there were only 21 wild whooping cranes in existence. It has a been a long, hard struggle for this beautiful bird; but in 2015 the count was up to 603 individuals (including 161 captives) (Wikipedia).


Dragonflies abound, box turtles, butterflies, and over 300 species of birds.

Yellow Warbler on nest, Horicon Marsh


Halloween Pennant Dragonfly, Horicon Marsh, Wisc.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, Horicon Marsh

Marsh birds are prevalent, like Canada geese, ducks, and herons.

Red-winged blackbird, Horicon Marsh, WI

Red-winged blackbirds, a healthy marsh staple, were everywhere; and one special siting that lasted about ten seconds: a yellow-headed blackbird.

Monarch Butterfly, Horicon Marsh, WI


American White Pelican (photographed in Calif.)

Also saw numerous American White Pelicans. Wisconsinites are happy about the come-back of this bird. The pelicans were absent for about one hundred years, probably due to over-hunting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated, in 2002, that the Horicon Marsh numbers had risen to about 1,200 white pelicans.


Muskrat, Horicon Marsh

It was a thrill to see several muskrats (locals call them “muskies”), especially the one that climbed out of the water–wonderful to see the whole body.

Common Muskrat, Horicon Marsh, WI

Marshes were once thought of as wasteland because they were not commercially enterprising. Part of the Horicon Marsh history includes those periods too, destruction and failed developments.


Fortunately residents and environmentalists changed that, saw its value, and preserved 32,000 acres. Today the benefits of wetlands are more widely known; they help moderate global climate conditions and play an integral role in watershed ecology. They also provide a productive ecosystem for countless living organisms.


How lucky for us.


All photos by Athena Alexander (except where noted)


Athena at the Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin


Horicon Marsh at sunset




90 thoughts on “Wildlife at Horicon Marsh

    • I’m really glad the marsh has been preserved too, it is such a pleasure to visit. Glad you enjoyed the photos by Athena, my wife; between the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, heft, dawn hour, and swift creatures, she had her hands full. Thanks so much, John–

  1. What a beautiful and delightful series. Jet! The Forster’s tern is indeed graceful, love the White Pelican capture. We saw three wild whooping cranes at the TX Gulf Cost a couple of years ago. Enjoyed reading the info.
    Happy to meet Athena here. Thanks to her for sharing all the remarkable photos! 🙂 🙂

    • Fun to have you join us at the Horicon Marsh, Amy, I’m glad you enjoyed the visit and photos. Fantastic to hear that you saw three wild whooping cranes on the TX Coast, my guess is that this is one of the only other areas in the U.S. that has both cranes. Texas coastal birding is excellent. Thanks for your kind comment.

    • Fun to be the cat’s pajamas, Teagan! That yellowthroat throwing back his head and singing is a good one, and oh we were so excited to see the cygnets. Glad you enjoyed the post today, Teagan — thanks so much.

  2. Another beautiful post – such biodiversity in marshes! Wonderful that humans are learning to see the treasure and value isn’t in extraction from these places.
    Splendid photographs once again (and now I can see how Athena gets those excellent close ups!)
    Thanks, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • I agree, pc, wonderful biodiversity in marshes, and oh-so-great that marshes are not so readily filled in anymore. Glad you liked Athena’s photos. Tricky thing (and delightful) about birds and bugs and mammals–they don’t stay still long so the long lens shortens the distance. For the turtle, on the other hand, she was able to get down on her stomach and capture him walking toward her. I thank you for your visit today, it is always appreciated pc; and I really liked your fog post today. 🙂

    • Athena was happy about that forster’s tern photo…and yes, the muskrats, were so fun to see. The visit this summer we had the pleasure of seeing more muskrats (about 4 in as many days) than usual. Thank you for stopping by today, Jan.

  3. Wonderful post, Jet! Many thanks to you and Athena. The little yellow warbler nest is soooooooooo cute! 🙂 The pelican looks like it is welcoming a large crowd (of???) that is coming to listen to an excellent speech.

    Happy Friday 🙂

    • I enjoyed your comment, Myriam, and it’s great to “see” you. Finding that warbler nest was a magic trick. We were there alone in the forest adjacent the marsh, it was about 6:30am, and the female was on the nest, while the male brought her food. And although they were stealthy and soundless, we were standing there, scanning for birds, and their quiet action came to our attention. And I like that pelican photo too, it reminds me of a symphony conductor getting ready to start the musicians; funny that you had a similar impression of a person beginning a speech. Many, many thanks–

    • My warm thanks to you, Iris, for your visit and lovely words. I grew up in this town of Horicon, so I am fortunate to go back every year or so to visit relatives. Wonderful to have an exchange with you, thank you.

  4. A wonderful post Jet clearly demonstrating the valu of these places to the planet, the wildlife and to us. Great photos too – I especially like the one of Forster’s tern and the last shot is so atmospheric. Beautiful place 😊

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the Horicon Marsh post, Alastair. I like that Forster’s tern too, so regal. We had many of them swooping around us, and she captured some great ones in all positions, but this one with the outspread wings and diaphanous elements was the winner. And we were lucky on that moonlit night to be driving around enjoying the last light of the day, to have the moon setting. My thanks to you, Alastair, always a treat.

  5. Yes a painted turtle there, but wonderful to see these creatures beautifully photographed and presented(especially like the black tern). Creatures both rare and common, harmonized at Horicon, a famous wetland that I’ll have to visit on my next passage through Wisconsin. Thanks Jet.

    • It’s a spectacular marsh, Walt, I know you would enjoy it. There is lots of fishing in the nearby waterways. I grew up here, in Horicon, and my grandpa took us fishing all the time here with cane poles about a million years ago, not long after the glaciers moved through. 😉

    • I’m glad you liked the vicarious trip with the post, and I’m glad you’ve been to the marsh, too. The terns are mostly on the north side of the preserve near Highway 49. Many thanks for your kind words and visit, Bill.

  6. Let me say first of all lovely to see a photo of the photographer who never fails to give these amazing images..
    With all of the success increasing populations in this astounding marsh I couldn’t help but think that in the wildlife world Horicon Marsh is the place to be. I imagine the conversation to go something like, “Well everyone is going to be there this season so let’s be sure to arrive in time to get a waterfront nest.”
    Loved reading the stats of populations coming back from the brink of extinction.

    • Enjoyed your visit today, Sue, and the fun comment. It is great to see instances when birds do come back from the brink of extinction. We hear all the time about all the wildlife that are losing that battle, so when some have won it, is worth noting. Always a joy to have you visit, thank you.

  7. 32,000 acres!! That is quite something. The muskrat is my favorite photo, just because it was so unexpected. But they are all glorious. The photo of the pelican is beautiful too. We saw cranes when we spent time at bird park in Northern India (Bharatpur) where migratory birds were making their way from Siberia to warmer weather. We had never seen such large birds before and so up close, impressive indeed. I can’t unfortunately remember what type of cranes they were, but they were gorgeous.


    • The size of cranes is indeed a joy to see, isn’t it, Peta? I am always amazed at how big they are, and find them absolutely thrilling to be around. There are some beauties on your side of the globe, and I remember a post of yours where you photographed some. As for that muskrat photo. A tractor had come through when we were on the trail, they were cutting the grass. And I don’t know if the muskrat’s track was disturbed or what, because I had never seen one climb fully out of the water. So it was fun to see this one out. As ever, thanks so much for your visit.

    • Great to share the Horicon Marsh with a former Marshman and Marsh dweller. It is truly one of the most beautiful marshes in the whole world, and absolutely thriving with good health and abundant wildlife. And you put on a Packers shirt there, and it’s like honey to bees. Many thanks, dear Nan–

  8. Excellent seeing these Horicon photos from near my once and former home turf. 🙂 I see Athena has gone native with a Packer shirt too. Now, about those mosquitos- 😀
    Bosque del Apache in NM normally has both cranes, come winter.

    • Oh how fun that you lived near Horicon, Robert. You know Wisconsin and Packer fans, I see that. I am glad to know that Bosque del Apache has both cranes too. I’ve been there, in the winter for the migration, but that was about 20 years ago. I’m glad to know the whoopers have made it there. And about those Horicon Marsh mosquitoes…they are the most abundant wildlife on the marsh!! Also plenty of chiggers, which love me. For the chiggers I wear nylon gaiters around my ankles, and am happy to say I can now walk on the grass without incident. The mosquitoes are healthy and abundant. Great to get your comment, Robert, many thanks.

  9. Wonderful history about the variety and comeback of so many birds at the marsh and a beautiful selection of photos by Athena! I’m beginning to plan several outings this fall to new places closer to home to watch the migrating birds and due to the inspiration provided by so many of your posts and photos, it’s possible for the first time I may choose birding over football on a Sunday. I would love to find the time for a fall trip to Wisconsin to visit Door County and the Horicon Marsh, but the way things have been going it might have to wait until next spring. Thanks for sharing this special place and the stunning photos!

    • Wonderful to receive your visit and comment, ACI. I’m really glad you enjoyed the Horicon Marsh post. Just in case you do make it there anytime soon, it is not located in Door County, but in Dodge County. It’s about an hour’s drive west of Milwaukee. I smiled at choosing birding over Sunday football, which would be a dilemma for me too, if I didn’t record the games. Fall migrations are really spectacular, and how wonderful that you are even thinking of them. That means they are in your near future. This gives me a really big smile. Always a fun visit from you, ACI, thank you.

    • It was really great to watch the yellowthroat singing so heartily, and the terns were indeed very busy with their hunting and diving. So glad you enjoyed the Horicon Marsh, Andrea — a joy to have you join me there.

  10. Interesting to see birds familiar on Abaco in a different and distant setting, Jet. I’ve even seen a white pelican fly over – a very rare vagrant. That was entirely a matter of ‘right time, right place’. We also get monarchs as occasional blow-ins. RH

    • It is a great treat, I agree, RH, to see resident home birds in another place. I once went on a birding trip in Belize and the guide loved to point out the acorn woodpeckers, a beautiful bird but one we see in our yard every day. I liked hearing about the rare white pelican and the occasional monarchs. Thanks for your contribution, RH — always a delight.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Horicon Marsh post. I would imagine from your wonderful photos that you have a marshy venue you enjoy. Many thanks (and no problem about the erasing, that button is too quick sometimes, I know).

    • It is indeed a thrill that we have such a large and healthy marsh like the Horicon Marsh, Gunta. And people really enjoy and appreciate it, another mammal species to be spotted there. 😉

  11. Great to hear that such an important environment and its ecosystem were preserved in the face of development. Thanks for this tour and visit with its varied inhabitants. It is a beautiful area. How often do you go out there?

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the visit to the Horicon Marsh, Draco. Lately I’ve been going every summer. I grew up here, and being from a large family there are still many relatives in the area and I enjoy the family get-togethers as long as I get a good morning of birding in first. ha.

  12. Jet, I found this post through “A Place in the World” and am glad I did. I live in Wisconsin and am about an hour’s drive from Horicon Marsh. As a child, my family went there several times during migrating season when there are thousands and thousands of Canadian geese in the marsh. I remember the windshield of the car being struck by a large clump of goose poop once or twice. This past June, after a long bike ride just south of the marsh, I decided to make the loop around the marsh as I hadn’t been there in years. I ended up stopping at the Visitor Center, where there’s an amazing view of the marsh, and went for a short hike on the trail. I would love to go back soon to once again see the migrating geese, walk the trails and try to spot all of the lovely creatures your friend caught in her photographs. Thanks for sharing this lovely post!

    • Hi bikerchick, I’m thrilled that you found Cinda’s re-blog and connected with my Horicon Marsh post. You and I both grew up in the vicinity, spent time as children on the marsh with our families, and went to the Visitor Center this past June. Being only an hour away, I hope you go back often, for it is one of the most beautiful marshes in the world. How lucky that you have the history and are not that far away. My humble thanks for your visit and comment, it is most appreciated.

      • I will go back, Jet. I think I can drag my neighbor there for a hike in the marsh and bike ride on the Wild Goose state trail in the fall. It would be so pretty!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Horicon Marsh post, Agness. Best time of year depends on what you like. I like warm weather and bird migrations, so spring and summer and early fall work well (April-Oct.). Some folks like the winter sports and don’t mind the cold, so Nov.-March works for that. Thank you.

  13. I love this post! I’m more familiar with southern salt marshes so it was great to have a tour of a Wisconsin marsh. It’s wonderful to see so many types of wildlife in one place. Love the whooping cranes and white pelicans! I’ve never seen a muskrat so I really enjoyed those photos. Thanks!

    • Thanks very much, WD. The folks in Wisc. are nonchalant about muskrats, but I rarely see them, so this was a treat for me, like it is for you. Enjoyed your comment, thank you–

    • Enjoyed your comment, Jo, thank you. You would love a hearty walk on the Horicon Marsh, just a little far for you. 😉 I’m glad I could share it with you across the pond.

    • There is something very moving about the Horicon Marsh, so I am delighted to have conveyed it to you, Helen. And happy you could “be” there with me to enjoy the Marsh. Thank you.

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