Monarch butterflies a rare sight in Northeast Wisconsin

A monarch butterfly at the Mosquito Hill Nature Center near New London

NEW LONDON - A familiar flier is back in the area, but it's one you may not get a chance to see.

The monarch butterfly population is way down from what it used to be.

At a screened enclosure at the Mosquito Hill Nature Center near New London monarch butterflies flutter in the breeze.

Nate Brock and his family checked out the sights.

"Yeah, they're fantastic. A lot of different varieties. Really close proximity, so it's kind of cool," said Nate Brock, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But for the Brock family, one species stands out.

"They're beautiful. They're the prettiest butterfly that we see around town," said Jen Brock, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But the monarchs may be in trouble. Naturalists say the butterflies only live a few weeks, and it takes several generations for the monarchs to make it from Mexico to Wisconsin.

"The monarchs that over-winter in Mexico experienced a real harsh winter down there. And then as their offspring returned to the Midwest in April, May, June. They're encountering things like bad weather conditions, our bad winter. Drought conditions in the southern part of the state, lack of food," said Mary Swifka, Mosquito Hill Nature Center.

Swifka says monarch caterpillars and adults are captured on site.

"We raise them into their adult form, and we release them into the house. So it's a microcosm of what we're seeing in the wild, in the house itself," said Swifka.

So what can you do? Experts say plant plenty of milkweed in your backyard or garden. They say monarchs can't live without it.

"The butterfly larvae are 100% dependent on milkweed plants as a food source, but adult monarch butterflies will collect nectar from a variety of flower sources," said Swifka.

Swifka says people are taking her advice, but the long-term prognosis for the monarch is up in the air.

"Whether, or how they're going to recover or how long it might take to recover is anybody's guess," said Swifka.

In the meantime, the Mosquito Hill butterfly house will be open.

"It's really cool to see places like this that kind of cultivate this. Yeah, you don't see this concentration of butterflies anywhere else," said Brock.

Naturalists say this is the third generation of butterflies this season. The next round of monarchs is the crucial one. That's the generation which will make the flight to Mexico for the winter.