Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

City of Madison


Community Achievements

Habitat Creation, Protection, and Monitoring

A. Comply with Wisconsin's "Smart Growth" law for land use planning and resource management. This criterion is an option only for applications submitted before July 1, 2017.

The City of Madison has an adopted Comprehensive Plan that incorporates smart growth provisions for land and resource management.

B. Describe organized bird monitoring or data obtained from researchers or volunteers in the local park system. (Exclusions: Programs that receive credit under 4C: Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out)

Volunteers continue to monitor bird sightings at several conservation parks, including Cherokee Marsh, Edna Taylor, Kettle Pond, Owen, Stricker’s Pond and Turville Point. Volunteers record their findings on the eBird website.

C. Provide evidence (e.g., official designation of natural areas, easements, etc.) that existing bird habitat within community limits has legal protection. (Exclusions: Leash laws; prohibitions against disturbing nests and wildlife; areas consisting primarily of mowed grass)

Madison General Ordinance 8.40 (Preservation of the Conservation Parks) sets regulations to protect the designated natural areas in the Madison Park Division.

D. Document that current municipal planning seeks to provide additional bird habitat.

The city has protected and manages 1,750 acres of conservancy land across 14 sites. Ongoing habitat restoration efforts in these Conservation Parks create and improve large continuous grassland areas for grassland bird habitat, as well as improving the quality of a number of oak savanna remnants. These restoration projects progress in phases that are planned each year by Parks staff.

E. Describe your community’s ordinance demonstrating that your community does not restrict natural/native landscaping that emphasizes native plants and non-turf lawns.

Natural lawns are approved by the Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development with a written Land Management Plan (MGO Sec 27.05(2)(f)2).

G. Document that there is a segment of the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail or a designated Important Bird Area within or adjacent to your community.

The UW Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve is considered to be a Wisconsin Important Bird Area.

L. Show that your community has restored at least two acres of woodlands, wetlands, or prairie.

A number of acres of woodland in Cherokee Marsh have been restored recently to Oak Openings by major projects coordinated by Madison Parks Conservation Manager Russ Hefty in coordination with Friends of Cherokee Marsh and other volunteers to remove honeysuckle and buckthorn, reseed with locally native woodland and prairie understory and prairie species, and leaving brush piles, chips, and major snags for woodpecker habitat. The success of that project can be seen in the presence of 3 new nesting pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in the restoration area. This was celebrated in local newspaper articles and high quality photography by bird photographer Arlene Koziol that was used by Peggy McNamara, artist in residence at the Chicago Field Museum for paintings featuring the Red-headed Woodpecker’s return.

N. Show that your community works on public lands to control invasive species that have significant negative impacts on bird habitat.

Both the City of Madison Engineering Division and Parks Division manage invasive species on public lands including "greenways" reserved for storm water conveyance, "managed-meadow" areas reserved for habitat in general recreation parks, and througout the system of conservation parks.  Populations of key invasive species, including but not limited to those designated as "noxious weeds" by City ordinance, are mapped and managed.  Well-timed mechanical control methods are favored in order to maximize effectiveness, limit seed dispersal, and limit impacts to the surrounding ecosystem.

O. Document a program to support the establishment of natural lawns and native landscaping, possibly including public presentations of Audubon’s Plants for Birds Initiative (contact them for a presentation kit).

The Common Council recently updated both the city’s weed ordinance and natural lawn and landscaping ordinance. The City of Madison encourages homeowners to include plants native to Wisconsin within their landscaping because these plants provide a hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance yard while benefiting the environment. Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, herbicides, water, and lawn maintenance equipment. Native plants are also beneficial because they help reduce air pollution because they do not require mowing; they attract a variety of birds, butterflies and other pollinators; and their use promotes biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.

Regarding natural lawns, the city’s ordinance has been updated and Section 27.05(2)(f)7 has been created to provide an option for owners to have part of their yard maintained as a “natural landscape area” without having to go through the application, permitting and approval process previously established.

P. Demonstrate the implementation of a program to preserve Chimney Swift nesting and roosting sites (preferred) and/or to construct Chimney Swift towers.

Madison Bird City FUN Friends of Urban nature partners including Madison Parks, Madison Audubon and WBCI advisors, UW Madison and Wisconsin DNR bird experts, Friends of Cherokee Marsh volunteers and the local Cherokee neighborhood association collaborated to select an appropriate location and install Madison’s first Chimney Swift Tower in Cherokee Marsh at the border near urban buildings at the corner of Wheeler Road and Comanche Way. The construction and materials were donated by Wisconsin Union Trades representative Spencer Statz and other group members. The planning, implementation, celebration day, and newspaper articles were used to help educate the public and public officials about the importance of Accommodation Architecture for Swifts including leaving natural hollow trees where safe, leaving chimneys open where possible, and providing constructed Swift Towers where needed.

Q. Document the establishment of a program to promote the conservation of Purple Martins through research, state of the art management techniques, or public education.

Madison Bird City FUN Friends of Urban Nature partner groups including Madison Parks and Wild Warner collaborated to install a Purple Martin house with currently recommended design that is easily lowered for cleaning. The installation was done as part of the annual IMBD Bird City Celebration and it is monitored weekly along with monitoring nearby Bluebird Trails. Other insectivore Accommodation Architecture initiatives include Bat Houses at several locations and a trial of enhanced nesting surfaces under two new metal beam pedestrian and bicycle bridges in Warner Park that were then used by Barn Swallows and are being researched and monitored to determine if Cliff Swallows will use them.

R. Show how your community aids a local youth group (e.g., Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of USA, 4-H Club, etc.) or conservation group in bird conservation projects (e.g., bluebird trail, habitat restoration, Wood Duck nest boxes, etc.).

Madison Eagle Scouts and others continued to monitor and maintain existing Bluebird boxes, and the Dane County Conservation League installed several new Wood Duck boxes at Cherokee Marsh and other locations throughout the city.

T. Document that your community maintains a birding trail or hot spot location with educational signage and/or literature. (Note: A birding hotspot alone is not sufficient - your community must actively promote birding and public education at the site itself.)

Madison Bird City FUN Friends of Urban Nature partner groups Wild Warner, Friends of Cherokee Marsh and Friends of Lakeview Hill collaborated with Madison Parks and advisors from the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and the International Crane Foundation to start a Northside Nature Center area in the Warner Park Community Recreation Center. The focus is helping people, and especially local families, kids, and minorities, discover and enjoy nearby Nature Recreation, Nature Education, and Natural Health opportunities in nearby Urban Natural Areas. Signage, brochures and bird lists feature birding and nature trails in the ‘Wild Side’ of Warner Park as well as Lakeview Hill and Cherokee Marsh. This initiative also includes a Nature Nook with bird feeders and bird houses just outside the Warner Park Center windows that are enjoyed by people exercising, Senior Lunch folks, and people attending many meetings and activities, as well as the birds including the local Sandhill Crane pair that makes regular appearances. There is also a Nature Nook with feeders in Warner Woods and Bluebird Trail boxes in the old meadow and restored prairie areas. These Accommodation Architecture Nature Nook and Bluebird Trail initiatives have captured significant public interest and appeal (the local Senior Lunch group call themselves the ‘Crane Cult’) and are used for Nature Education on Wednesday Sherman Nature Explorer outings and Sunday Bird and Nature Walks as hot spot destinations and teachable moments.

V. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

The City of Madison has a managed meadow program in place in general parklands to promote wildlife values. Areas within parks not needed for active recreation are planted with native prairie plants and maintained with annual mowing. Some oak groves are managed with limited mowing to allow for natural oak reproduction to grow the next generation of trees. These areas may also be under-planted with native oak savanna forbs, grasses, and sedges.

The City of Madison Conservation Parks, University of Wisconsin Arboretum, and Lakeshore Nature Preserve have active land stewardship programs that protect and enhance bird habitat. The UW Arboretum pioneered the practice of landscape restoration dating back to the 1930s when it undertook the goal of recreating native plant communities found in Wisconsin. The Lakeshore Nature Preserve permanently protects 300 acres of natural areas along Lake Mendota and is a designated Important Bird Area.

Madison’s Conservation Park System was established in 1971 with active land stewardship as a central goal. An Innovative wetland restoration project on the Yahara River in Cherokee Marsh has received recognition from the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. In 10 years, more than 100 acres of aquatic habitats has been restored to protect adjacent wetlands from shoreline erosion. The shallow water habitat has attracted a wide variety of birds including eagles, ospreys, herons, waterfowl, and many species of shorebirds. Cherokee Marsh was designated a Wetland Gem by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

Currently, Madison Parks is working to restore larger tracts of continuous grassland through new plantings as well as restoration of old fields and marshland. Madison Parks also has a number of oak savanna restoration projects underway at multiple parks throughout the city in an effort to improve habitat for birds such as the red-headed woodpecker.

Volunteers associated with the Madison Friends of Urban Nature (FUN) have undertaken several projects to create and maintain bird habitat in 2016. They installed Prothonotary Warbler and Kestrel nest boxes at Cherokee Marsh and other sites throughout the city, and monitor and maintain these and other bird houses through their “Bird Buddies” team.  

Community Forest Management

A. Demonstrate that your community has been awarded Tree City USA status by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The City of Madison continues to be recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation following its initial award in 1989. In addition, the City of Madison has a HeritageTree program that recognizes the legacy of trees in their city.

C. Document an ongoing community program to incorporate a significant number of native trees, native shrubs, native herbaceous plants, and/or cultivars of native species in public or large-scale private landscaping.

City of Madison parks has recently hired a Parks Arborist Crew to help with forestry management within the park system as well as to work on the Emerald Ash Borer invasion that is occurring within the city. This crew will also assist in identifying proper native species to be planted within the parks alongside the Conservation Parks crew that continues to plant and promote native tree and shrub growth in the appropriate Conservation Park areas.

Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds

A. Describe your community’s educational program to control free-roaming cats and/or the manner in which you actively publicize the Cats Indoors! initiative.

The City of Madison links to ABC’s Cats Indoors program and will also provide this link on their parks website.

B. Demonstrate that your community provides property owners with information on how to protect birds from window strikes (e.g., online links, brochures).

The City of Madison links to ABC’s window collision information and plans to provide this link on their parks website.

Public Education

C. Demonstrate that your community is represented in at least one citizen science bird monitoring program (e.g., the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out).

A Christmas Bird Count has been held in Madison since 1936. Madison Audubon Society has promoted the Great Backyard Bird Count since 1998, and Bird Banding Day since 2000.

E. Illustrate a program that involves schools, garden clubs, or other organizations in bird conservation activities.

Volunteers also work with Madison Parks, UW Nelson Institute, and local Friends of parks groups to offer family and kid friendly nature outings every week. Their Bird and Nature Walks were expanded in 2016 to include a walk along Starkweather Creek. This not only increases awareness among regular participants, but also created more opportunity to reach additional people. Weekly nature outings with kids in the Sherman Middle School Nature Explorer program continued, and a number of other after-school and summer kids’ program initiatives were offered with assistance from Madison Audubon Society, Madison School and Community Recreation, and other Madison Bird City FUN Friends of Urban Nature partner groups. In 2016, FUN volunteers presented at new venues such as the Westside Garden Club, to promote native landscaping and bird habitat.

K. Demonstrate that your community actively raises awareness of its bird assets. Examples include placing a remote web camera on a nest platform, offering bird watching field trips, or creating a significant educational resource on your community's bird life.

The Madison Audubon Society, Madison Area Schools educators and FUN (Friends of Urban Nature) are working together to raise awareness of the birding opportunities that are available in and around Madison. Madison Parks and FUN partner groups have facilitated purchase of several Audubon Birdcams and a Wildlife Cam that are being used by FUN group volunteers and UW students for urban bird and wildlife education and research. Examples include the UW Lakeshore Preserve Owl Cam, Biocore Prairie Bluebird Cam, and the Warner Park and Turville Point Beaver Cam projects. This is still in a learning curve and advisors include UW professor David Drake who heads a Canid Research project that is using cams to help research urban fox and coyote wildlife. The Bird City FUN Friends of Urban Nature partner group sponsored weekly Sunday Bird and Nature Walk outings also feature public education. We received a Wisconsin Natural Resource Foundation grant to fund more opportunities for School Naturalists and Topic Experts to lead Bird and Nature Walks to add Nature Education value along with FUN group volunteer co-leaders. Other new Nature Education initiatives include helping walk participants learn appropriate and effective use of personal electronics as Nature Education tools. Families and kids on Sunday Bird and Nature Walks and after-school and summer camp kids nature outings in Madison learn about and really enjoy using Digital Bird Guides on cellphones, the appropriate ethical use of Digital Audio recordings, and the use of Nature Optics including digiscoping with personal cellphones through a walk leader provided telescope to take their own close ups of Bald Eagles and other interesting Madison area birds. We also feature walks and ongoing opportunities to sharing tips on effective bird and nature photography using relatively inexpensive digital zoom cameras. The most recent FUN enhancement to engage people, and especially kids, is proving and letting them use inexpensive (under $20) USB digital microscopes to look at leaves, feathers and tiny creatures and USB digital endoscopes to look in hollows and burrows. The amazing detail draws people into awe of nature and endless questions, and the display can be presented and shared with groups on walks using a portable laptop or a regular cellphone right in the field, and pictures and videos are captured for posting on Parks and other Bird City FUN partner group web and Facebook pages.

N. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

Madison Audubon Society holds several field trips each year that are open to the public. Madison Parks Division leads monthly nature hikes (April-October) in different conservation parks throughout the city. Attendance at the hikes ranges from 10 to 50 people.

Energy & Sustainability

C. Document that a municipal building is LEED certified (silver or higher).

The City of Madison, Parks Division operations headquarters are located at the Goodman Maintenance Facility, 1402 Wingra Creek Parkway, which is centered around a LEED Certified "Silver" building.  

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)

A. This community's municipal body passed the required International Migratory Bird Day resolution.

B. Document and describe your event that incorporates the annual IMBD theme in some fashion. If the event has not yet occurred, please share your detailed plans. For information on the current year’s theme and event materials, please visit the International Migratory Bird Day website. To see what other Bird City communities have done in the past, please view some other profiles on our website.

Madison’s annual IMBD event was again hosted at Warner Park’s Rainbow Shelter in 2017. On Sunday, April 16, more than 500 visitors attended to watch presentations and participate in activities that celebrated Bird City initiatives and also Earth Day and Arbor Day initiatives. The day’s activities included music by Barry Riese, displays featuring information about nature recreation and nature education hosted by a number of Madison area Bird City FUN Friends of Urban Nature partner groups, bird and nature related kids games and activities such as “bird bingo” and guided walks through the natural area at the park, as well as tree planting and a reenactment of John Muir leaving Madison to study in the wilderness. Staff from the Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) gave two presentations featuring live raptors, including a Barn Owl, a Kestrel and a Turkey Vulture.

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Community Details

Joined Bird City: 2013

Population: 243,344

Incorporated: 1856

Area: 94.03 mi2

Community Website

Community Bird City Page

Community Map