Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

City of Madison

City of Madison


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 1,752 acres of conservancy land across 20 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.

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.

Natural lawns and landscaping are approved by the Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development with a written Land Managment Plan per MGO 27.05(2)(f)2.  This ordinance was recently updated to facilitate their establisment through creation of Section 27.05(2)(f)7, which provides parameters 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.  The Common Council also recently updated the city’s weed ordinance to allow native thistle species to remain in natural landscaping and ungroomed areas. 

F. Show that your community offers the public information on how they can control and remove invasive species in order to improve or maintain bird habitat.

Each year, volunteer workday events are hosted by Friends of Cherokee Marsh, Friends of Edna Taylor Conservation ParkFriends of Hoyt Park, Friends of Olin-Turville, Friends of Owen Park, and Madison Parks. Participants learn how to control and remove invasive species such as garlic mustard, dame's rocket, burdock, buckthorn, honeysuckle and many more. Despite restrictions on large gatherings and protocols that lmited the size of volunteer events due to COVID, volunteers still donated 450 hours of labor to control invasive species and monitor plant communities in Madison's Conservation Parks in 2020.  

Guided tours led by Madison Parks and the Friends groups always include some discussion of invasive species and work being done to control them, and we are adding language to our Conservation Park description pages on our website, like this one for the Mendota Unit of Cherokee Marsh, to educate people about proper control methods and disposal, and to encourage visitors to help. 

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.  The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail, Southern Savanna Region, includes the UW Lakeshore Preserve and UW Arboretum.

I. Document a recent project that created or restored bird habitat in your community. (Exclusions: Bird feeders and small-scale artificial nesting structures)

In 2020, Madison Parks continued restoration and management of its natural areas with the help of volunteer groups such as the Friends of Owen Park, who controlled garlic mustard, buckthorn and porcelain berry to support the ongoing restoration and management of prairie and oak woodland habitat at Owen Conservation Park; and the Friends of Cherokee Marsh, who controlled garlic mustard, Japanese hedge parsley and common reed in Cherokee Marsh.  In addition, volunteers continued to expand their efforts removing buckthorn from an additonal 2 acres at Prairie Ridge Conservation Park, increasing the proportion of the park that is under active management. 

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

Approximately 18 acres of overgrown woodland in Cherokee Marsh were recently restored to "oak openings" habitat by major projects coordinated by Madison Parks in coordination with Friends of Cherokee Marsh and other volunteers.  Work included removal of honeysuckle and buckthorn, reseeding 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.

Critical follow-up work is underway to bring these areas from a "restoration phase" to a "maintenance phase", in terms of ecological management.  Meanwhile, we are actively working to expand these efforts to an additional 15 acres on site.

Similar work has been and is being conducted at Owen Conservation Park, to restore 26 acres of overgrown woodlands to healthy "oak openings" and "oak woodland" habitat.

Overall, Madison Parks manages approximately 470 acres of natural areas in the City's conservation parks.  Activities include restoration and maintenance of wetland, prairie, savanna and woodland habitats through invasive plant control, prescribed burning and native plant establishment. 

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

The City of Madison Engineering Division and Parks Division both 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.

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

Madison 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 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 2016 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. Also in 2016, the Friends of Cherokee Marsh installed a purple martin house in Cherokee Park and continue to provide a volunteer steward to care for the house.

In 2017, volunteers with the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve installed a Purple Martin house in the Biocore Prairie at UW Madison's Lakeshore Nature Preserve.  This will continue to be featured on regular hikes at the property, including the monthly Bird and Nature Outings, sponsored by Madison FUN. 

In 2019, volunteers with the Friends of Edna Taylor Conservation Park cleared brush from around a previously installed Purple Martin house, and will monitor it for activity in 2020.

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.).

The City of Madison Engineering Division and Parks Division both use crews from the Operation Fresh Start job training program to assist with their management efforts.  Crews are assigned to each division for the summer, and participants learn about and engage in plant identification and habitat restoration.  Madison Eagle Scouts and others continued to monitor and maintain existing Bluebird boxes, and the Dane County Conservation League continued to install several new Wood Duck boxes in 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 FUN 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 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. Our prescribed burn program strives to alternate and stagger burns in adjacent or nearby prairie units within parks in order to reserve refuges and maximize habitat for insects and ground-nesting birds such as Henslow's Sparrows, which occur at Cherokee Marsh.  

Volunteers associated with the Madison FUN have undertaken several projects to create and maintain bird habitat. They have 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.

The City of Madison Parks Arborist Crew continues to work on proactive removal of potentially hazardous ash trees infested with Emerald Ash Borer.  A total of 700 native trees of various species were planted to replace these ash in 2020.   In addition, the Conservation Parks crew that continues to plant and promote native tree and shrub growth in the appropriate Conservation Park areas.

Each year, Madison Parks' Landscape Architects develop and complete park beautification and naturalization projects that rely heavily on native species.  Recent major projects include naturalization of a hardened shoreline along Lake Wingra at Wingra Park, and a similar shoreline improvement and native planting project at Tenney Park.  Bio-basins are planned for Warner Park boat launch and Olbrich Park, and Greenside Park will be the site of an invasive plant removal and native plant installation project.

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 makes the public aware of the Cats Indoors! initiative via a link on our Bird City page on our 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 makes the public aware of 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. Madison Audubon and Friends of Cherokee Marsh hold annual Swift Night Out events.

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

Volunteers work with Madison Parks, UW Nelson Institute, and local Friends of parks groups to offer family and kid friendly nature outings every week. Weekly nature outings with kids in the Sherman Middle School Nature Explorer program continued in 2017, 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 FUN (Friends of Urban Nature) partner groups. The Madison FUN monthly Bird and Nature Outings have been expanded and now include a monthly hike at eight natural areas in the city, with two hikes every weekend. These hikes increase awareness among regular participants, and provide an "entry" for others to become nature enthusiasts and stewards. 

Madison Parks partners with John Muir Elementary School each May to host a Pond exploration day at nearby Owen Park.  Students in classes from grades 2 through 5 visit the park throughout the day for guided nature exploration that includes habitat observations, aquatic invertebrate sampling, and bird watching.  Students regularly see and hear woodpeckers, Red-winged Blackbirds, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Eastern Kingbirds, Belted Kingfishers, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks, and occasionally Sandhill Cranes.  

F. Demonstrate that your community understands the critical ecological role of pollinators by documenting your Bee City USA status or by describing another substantial effort to promote pollinator health (for ideas visit the Xerxes Society and the Pollinator Partnership).

The City of Madison Parks Department and several other City agencies follow the reccomendations of the City's Pollinator Protection Task Force.  This includes best management practices to reduce impacts to pollinators and promote pollinator 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. The Madison FUN-sponsored weekly Bird and Nature Walk outings provide public education on birds, as well as the annual "Owl Prowl" hosted by the Friends of Hoyt Park. 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 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 FUN partner group web and Facebook pages.

M. Show that your community participates in the Natural Resources Foundation’s Great Wisconsin Birdathon to raise money for your community and for statewide conservation.

The Madison-based Peddling Pewees and other teams birded in Madison and raised funds for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon in 2019.

N. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in cancellation of in-person hikes and nature education events in Madison in 2020, our partners stepped up to create several self-guided tours that were psoted on our website and social media platforms.  We also posted a brief series of "Nature Notes" in the spring - many of which pointed out bird- and flower-related phenology as the season progressed. These were designed to really make nature accessible to people who may have been discovering it for the first time as the "quarrantine" began and people sought outdoor recreation. 

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.  The Madison Public Library's Central Library Branch, 201 W. Mifflin St., acheived LEED "Gold" certification in 2014 with its renovation.  

World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD)

A. This community's municipal body passed the required World 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 World Migratory Bird Day website. To see what other Bird City communities have done in the past, please view some other profiles on our website.

The Madison Bird and Nature Festival, Madison’s annual WMBD event held at Warner Park’s Rainbow Shelter, was scheduled for April 26, 2020. However, due to pandemic-related restrictions, all gatherings were cancelled for most of the year.

At this time, we cannot commit to a Bird & Nature Festival in 2021. However, if public health guidelines allow, the event would be held on Sunday, April 25 at Warner Park.  Regardless, the Madison Common Council will resolve to mark WMBD on this date.

Joined Bird City: 2013

Population: 243,344

Incorporated: 1856

Area: 94.03 mi2

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