City of Middleton

City of Middleton

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.

On November 21, 2006, the City of Middleton adopted their Comprehensive Plan, an action that represented the City’s compliance with Wisconsin’s “Smart Growth” planning legislation that became law through Wisconsin Act 9 in October 1999. Middleton’s Comprehensive Plan addresses 9 key elements identified by Smart Growth Legislation. Several components, including land acquisition for recreational lands and parks, as well as zoning of shorelands and wetlands, have assured that the City of Middleton plans its growth with birds and other wildlife in mind. The City recently adopted a revised Comprehensive Plan in March 2021. The plan retained elements identified by the Smart Growth Legislation and expanded protection of biodiversity within the city, and safeguards for bird habitat and bird collision mitigation.

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)

Avid bird watchers abound in Middleton and have been keeping detailed bird checklists for several of Middleton’s conservancies for many years. For example, Mike McDowell and partners have been monitoring birds in Middleton’s Pheasant Branch Conservancy monthly since 2007, and during that time have tracked over 160 bird species. Dedicated resident Robert Conhaim has for many years monitored Purple Martin nesting at Stricker Pond. Furthermore, the community provides a detailed bird species count conducted at the Pheasant Branch Conservancy yearly.

Madison Audubon Society (MAS) sponsors an annual birding field trip to Middleton Municipal Airport for counting grassland bird species. The next field trip was planned for June 2020 but was cancelled due to COVID-19. MAS is also monitoring a bald eagle nest in Pheasant Branch Conservancy that was discovered in February 2020. This is part of MAS’s Bald Eagle Nest Watch program. The nest in 2020 did not produce offspring. However, the adult pair are currently incubating eggs and are being monitored by MAS.

Due to concerns by community birders that populations of grassland birds were declining in Pheasant Branch Conservancy, officials closed a number of trails in 20% of the Conservancy with the highest nesting sites of grassland birds. Dogs were allowed but had to be on leash.

A 2019 WI Master Naturalist (course held in Middleton) capstone project organized a group of birding volunteers to survey the designated area for 8 grassland bird species of concern: Willow flycatcher, sedge wren, dickcissel, Eastern meadowlark, clay colored sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, vesper sparrow, Henlow's sparrow. This is an ongoing project to monitor the effectiveness of the dog policy in terms of increasing grassland bird populations. In 2020, the group surveyed the existing prairies of the Conservancy. In 2021 they will also monitor 40 more acres that were seeded in winter of 2021 to see if the new prairie is helping provide habitat necessary to increase grassland bird populations. The group’s numbers have increased by two over 2020 making a total of 14 individuals monitoring grassland birds from the last week in April through the first week of September. The group is reporting out to the 2021 WI Master Naturalist course in Middleton as well as a Conservancy Days presentation. The hope is to educate the importance of maintaining and increasing these populations by protecting as well as increasing the habitat.

A number of years ago, a study by MAS volunteers resulted in delayed timing for cutting hay at the airport to allow grassland birds to fledge. Because of this data, when solar panels were being installed summer of 2020, MAS knew what birds were nesting in the area. They reached out to OneEnergy Development LLC for quality habitat mitigation which the company agreed to do. MAS is providing the company with advice on native seed mixes to plant and outlining best management practices, such as delayed mowing to protect nesting birds.

Students at Clark St. Community School (CSCS) in 2019 participated in MAS Bird Collision Corps (BCC) study at Kromrey Middle School. During spring and fall migration, students counted dead and stunned birds that had collided with the extensive windows facing the forest in the Pheasant Branch Creek corridor. The result of their study has resulted in writing a grant to obtain funds for remediation of those dangerous windows for birds. The application was interrupted during the pandemic. A video with instructions for constructing Acopian BirdSavors to apply to windows with high bird mortality was sent to Perry Hibner, Director of Communications for the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District for which the aforementioned schools are members. In 2020, a new elementary school, located at the Pope Farm Conservancy, was being built making the total number of schools in the district at eleven. Middleton High School (MHS) is also currently under construction to enlarge capacity. Hibner sent the video not only to the construction teams at Pope Farm and MHS, but also to the facilities services coordinator, as it would be his department that would have to implement the Acopian Birdsavers efforts or find something similar at Kromrey and other schools where there is an abundance of windows. The City of Middleton is also convening a task force to address bird strikes and possibly recommend the City pass an ordinance for new construction to have the type of windows that reduce bird strikes. The task force was put on hold during the pandemic but is planned to commence in the summer of 2021. In the interim, the sustainability coordinator for the City of Middleton has provided guidance to developers about bird friendly building design, using LEED Pilot Credit Bird Collision Mitigation requirements and guidance from New York City’s Bird Collision Ordinance language. The CSCS students are continuing in 2021 to monitor dead birds in BCC study. The results of the BCC study were broadcast last fall to the community during a ZOOM presentation as part of the Friends of Pheasant Branch (FOPBC) Conservancy Days monthly event.

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)

The City of Middleton’s Parks and Recreation ordinances protect park and conservancy property and specifically protect birds and bird habitat by stating that “no person shall kill, injure or disturb or attempt to injure or disturb waterfowl, birds or animals, wild or domestic, within any park.” The ordinance goes on to prohibit any action that may injure trees, shrubs or other vegetation. The Parks Ordinance also protects Middleton’s conservancy lands, including Stricker’s Pond, Tiedeman’s Pond, Graber Pond, Esser Pond and the famed Pheasant Branch Conservancy. In fact, Middleton can proudly say that over 25% of its land area is zoned as protected conservancy.

Due to concerns by community birders that populations of grassland birds were declining in Pheasant Branch Conservancy, officials closed a number of trails in 20% of the Conservancy with the highest nesting sites of grassland birds. Signs were posted to keep dogs on leash and an education effort was put forth to inform the public the importance of keeping dogs on leash to protect birds, dogs, and people. In 2021, a new Park Ranger for the Pheasant Branch Conservancy was hired in part to enforce dogs on leash. This position is shared with other Dane County parks in the area.

During sandhill crane nesting season, all boats are prohibited from the portion of Pheasant Branch Creek within this breeding and chick rearing area. Signs are posted to inform the public of the boating restrictions.

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

In 2014, the City of Middleton adopted a Comprehensive Park and Open Space Plan to remain in effect through the year 2019. At 127 pages, this extensive document ensures that community planning occurs with bird habitat and open space in mind. This plan covers parkland as governed by the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission. The mission statement of Middleton’s Open Space Plan calls for preserving and protecting the City’s open space, water, cultural and natural resources, and the plan’s first goal is maintaining an adequate amount of active and passive recreational land, which includes acquiring additional acreage for parks and recreation.

While the Parks & Open Space Plan includes conservancy lands, it does so only under the general analysis and master planning of public open space. Thus, a more comprehensive handling of conservancy lands can be found in the City of Middleton 2011 Conservancy Lands Plan. At the time of the Conservancy Lands Plan’s writing, conservancy lands covered over 800 acres, which represented approximately 15% of the City’s total area. By 2007, Middleton’s “green space” had increased to over 25% of the City’s area. The Conservancy Lands Plan acknowledges threats to conservancy lands including invasive species and development, and calls for measures like land acquisition to ensure viable conservancy lands long into the future.

Pheasant Branch Conservancy is a mix of woodland, wetland, and oak savannah and is managed by the City and adjacent Conservancy land is managed by Dane County. The Dane County unit of 160 acres that continues seamlessly from the City unit has just added an additional 160 acres by the purchase in 2019 of the Acker farm that shared a border with existing Conservancy land. Plans are in progress to turn the acreage into prairie and that will support a host of bird species including at risk grassland birds.

The grassland bird survey group (see B above) wrote a report and suggested habitat types/improvements to diversify grassland bird habitat for the new 160 acre addition to Pheasant Branch Conservancy being put into prairie over the next four years. Year one - 40 acres were seeded in winter 2021. This prairie is considered a platinum prairie because over 150 species were in the seed mix. Seed generated here will be used to improve habitat for birds in other Dane County properties with prairie.

Also, Rob Schubert with FOPBC has constructed a seed garden to add short grasses to improve the structure of the prairie to improve grassland bird habitat.

A WDNR grant was obtained to improve habitat for birds that nest or migrate through the marsh on a seasonal basis. The grant has been awarded to the FOPBC in 3 year cycles. The latest grant covers the 10th, 11th, and 12th year for improvements to habitat.

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 Middleton promotes native landscaping and distributes an informative pamphlet. One excellent resource for residents can be found on the City’s website where the rationale and benefits of native landscaping are explained and tips are offered for getting started. 

In 2020, the City of Middleton partnered with Clean Lakes Alliance, Madison Audubon Society, Olbrich Gardens, UW Arboretum, WI Landscape and Nursery Association, Allen Centennial Gardens, Aldo Leopold Center, Friends of Lake Wingra, Weedman, and the Fund for Lake Michigan on a Resilient Landscape initiative to help homeowners make their yards and gardens more ecologically resilient. The intent is to improve lake water quality, provide habitat for pollinators and birds, and increase biodiversity on land that isn't public. This annual program will include a social media campaign, marketing materials, and eventually might include a designation granted to homeowners if they implement and report their actions. Partners came up with a list of 10 action items homeowners can take to accomplish these goals. The actions can be found HERE.  

In 2021, the City sent out 6200 utility bills with a flyer insert asking residents to plant native vegetation in their yards to provide bird and pollinator habitat. This flyer was sent to residential, industrial, and commercial addresses as part of their utility bill.

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.

The City of Middleton provides an ample amount of information about the identification and removal of invasive plant species. This information is available on the City’s website. Additional links to related invasive species information can be found on the previously mentioned website as well under the Forestry heading.

The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy have work days for volunteers to remove invasive plants and have information on their website for identification purposes. The FOPBC hosted a talk in January 2019 by wildlife expert, David Drake. The topic was landscaping for wildlife in your yard. Drake provided information and resources for how people can make their suburban yards and neighborhoods more attractive to and more beneficial for wildlife.

Kromrey Middle School, on the banks of Pheasant Branch Creek and woodland, has extensive rain gardens that provide habitat for birds. In the fall and spring of 2017-20, 325 sixth grade students from Kromrey Middle School learned about native and invasive plants. They learned, with the help of naturalists, to identify select plants, the importance of natives and why invasive removal is desirable. They were trained to remove invasive species and then either planted or seeded bare spots.

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 Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail Guide features Middleton’s 160-acre Pheasant Branch Conservancy as an important site in Dane County. According to the Southern Savanna Region Trail Guide, signature species at Pheasant Branch include the Clay-colored Sparrow, Barred Owl and Common Yellowthroat.

Community Forest Management

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

2020 marked the 26th year that The City of Middleton was recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

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.

Several City of Middleton ordinances already deal with cats in that they require licensing, mandate rabies vaccination, forbid free-roaming in parks and allow for the impounding of cats or other animals as needed to prevent rabies.

Middleton has taken the first steps to institute the American Bird Conservancy’s “Cats Indoors” program by displaying a poster and providing brochures at both the library and city hall. Information is also available through their website. In light of greater knowledge surrounding the care and responsible ownership of cats, Middleton will be considering an ordinance with provisions recommended by the American Bird Conservancy, including, but not limited to, the mandatory spay/neuter of all cats over 6 months of age (unless the cat owner seeks an exception permit), and the confinement of all cats to the owners’ property or restraint when off premises.

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 Middleton provides online information on window-strike protection for bird under the Bird City Wisconsin section of its website.

The Middleton Sustainability Coordinator gave a presentation on Bird Collision Mitigation to Plan Commission on February 26, 2020. This presentation culminated from research done in response to concerns of a new development on the West side of town adjacent to conservancy lands. The Sustainability Coordinator is currently putting together a Task Force on Bird Collision Mitigation that will draft a suite of recommendations ranging from guidelines to ordinance language that address how to successfully mitigate bird collision mortality city-wide for both residential and commercial/multifamily buildings. Madison Audubon Society, UW Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture, American Bird Conservancy, and the local Bird Collision Corps monitoring volunteers are involved and have provided useful information in this on-going and new effort in our city.

Public Education

A. Demonstrate that schools in your community participate in a nationally-recognized environmental education program (e.g., Flying WILD, Audubon Adventures) or that your community organizes its own substantial education and outreach program for young people. 

The Middleton High School has a requirement that 40 hours of community service must be completed before graduation. The Friends of Pheasant Branch have used this opportunity to help educate students on aspects of wildlife as well as helping to improve the Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

The Friends (FOPBC) has an education coordinator and field trip program for students not only in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School district but for neighboring districts, scout programs and home schoolers. The elementary program provides enrichment for science units in the areas of water, plants, soil, ecology, and forests. The middle schools and high school teachers work directly with the coordinator to provide a field trip that is custom made. For example, the high school field biology class learns about identifying native and non-native invasive prairie plants and does a survey of abundance and distribution. The spring of 2019, the class was trained by Dane County naturalist Rob Schubert to identify prairie plants and invasive species, some techniques for invasive removal, and ideas for diversity and habitat improvement. The students in small groups had to work in an area of limited diversity and decide a course of action for improvement.

The FOPBC received a grant to work with 4K teachers in writing sandhill crane curriculum. The Pheasant Branch Conservancy has a “crane cam” (wildlife camera) positioned in the marsh for viewing cranes, ducks, geese and other birds of the wetland. The 4K curriculum incorporates the camera when learning about cranes. Students in the fall are involved in seed collecting and fifth graders have been involved in garlic mustard removal.

MHS photography students during their nature photography unit, take photos in the Conservancy and upload up to five photos each in the FOPBC photo contest. These photos have been used in the Friends phenology calendar and have caught different kinds of birds such as Great Horned Owl chicks, cardinals, and others.

The high school creative writing class during 2018-19 studied the effects of 2018 flooding in the Conservancy and wrote poetry describing their feelings about the destruction. In 2019, the class studied Climate Change and reflected in poetry. Spring of 2020, FOPBC will sponsor a nature writing seminar for students in the district as well as other seminars for families and adults at the local library. MHS offers courses in Advanced Placement Environmental Science, environmental studies, and field biology. The District is a nationally recognized US Department of Education Green Ribbon School District.

B. Provide web links or a community newsletter demonstrating that your community educates property owners on methods to create and enhance backyard habitat for birds.

The City of Middleton provides a pamphlet mailer that encourages and informs residents on native landscaping. The pamphlet is available through the Middleton Public Lands Department. The department can be reached by the following telephone # (608) 821-8360.

N. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

In June of 2017 The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy sponsored a Master Naturalist training.  Part of this training included students observing birds in the Conservancy behind Clark St. Community School and  then learned how to upload the data on the Cornell Ornithology lab website.

Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy have had birding events (mini-lessons) as part of their Make A Memory events for those with dementia the past two years. An amateur birder leads these sessions in Orchid Heights Park and in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy.

Middleton’s Public Lands Department offers an excellent brochure and birding checklist to residents entitled “The Birds of Middleton Kettle Ponds.”  Their mission is to “promote an understanding of the value of the natural habitats of Tiedeman, Stricker’s, Esser and Graber ponds, and to encourage the restoration, preservation and maintenance of these wetland areas.”

Energy & Sustainability

D. Document that your community has been recognized as a Green Tier Legacy Community.

The City of Middleton joined the Green Tier Legacy Community in 2010. The following profile for Middleton as a Green Tier Legacy Community can be found here:

E. Show that your community has implemented a sustainability plan that improves your community’s energy efficiency and/or increases the use of renewable energy. (Exclusions: Smart Growth comprehensive plans)

In 2010 Middleton adopted and began to implement a Sustainable City Plan. The Sustainability Committee is currently revising the 2010 plan and plans to have a draft for approval by Common Council sometime in Fall of 2020. The City also adopted a 100% Renewable Energy Resolution in 2018.

In June 2020, the City wrapped up a seven-city collaborative energy plan grant through the Wisconsin State Office of Energy Innovation. The Energy Plan maps out an actionable path for achieving Middleton’s energy goals laid out in the 2018 100% Renewable Energy Resolution.

F. Demonstrate that your community participates in a community solar program or that a municipal building receives a significant percentage of its electricity from renewable energy.

The Middleton Municipal Operations Center is a host site for an MG&E Community Solar Project.  

The City of Middleton partnered with MGE and the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District on a second larger shared solar project in 2019, located at the Middleton Municipal Airport. The City of Middleton purchased 500Kw of solar power for municipal electricity needs. The school district purchased another Megawatt of power for their electrical needs. The city and school district were the first two customers in the State of Wisconsin to purchase power using a novel Renewable Energy Rider structure with their utility. This earned the team RENEW’s Pioneer award in early 2020. The project will go online late this summer in 2020.

The City is also currently installing solar power on several municipal buildings. The solar projects will go out to bid in the summer of 2020. After these projects go online, Middleton will be using solar power to meet 50% of their electricity needs. Solar will be installed at Lakeview Park Shelter, The Municipal Operations Center, and Emergency Management Services Building. Currently, there are existing installations on the roof of our city’s Police Department Building and on the roof of a pavilion located downtown.

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 2017 City of Middleton National Trails/International Migratory Bird Day event, held on June 3rd at Orchid Heights Park, involved a broad array of activities. These included: bike with a naturalist ride; naturalist guided bird walk; and a forestry hike. During the event those in attendance were able to learn more about the City’s parks and conservancy lands, trails, and the importance that birds play in Middleton.

The Task Force to mitigate bird collisions with windows has been temporarily stalled due to COVID-19. However, plans are underway to get the Task Force up and running with a goal to draft a suite of recommendations ranging from guidelines to ordinance language that address how to successfully mitigate bird collision mortality city-wide for both residential and commercial/multifamily buildings. An event will have to be sometime in the future after the pandemic is under control.