Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County


Habitat Creation, Protection, and Monitoring

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)

The Milwaukee County Department of Parks Recreation & Culture’s (DPRC) Natural Areas Program has been actively conducting both breeding and migratory bird surveys throughout the Park System’s natural areas since 2012. DPRC staff and trained citizen-scientist volunteers follow standardized protocols for point count and transect surveys, documenting species presence by both visual and auditory observations. To date, the DPRC and volunteers have collected breeding and migratory bird data (21,460 surveys in eBird) at 140 sites within the Park System’s natural areas. Staff conducted 987 winter, migratory, and breeding bird surveys in 2017 making 87,086 bird observations made up of 229 species. All data has been entered into eBird. In addition, staff participated in year 3 of the WI BBA ii and have made 974 breeding bird confirmations within the Park System for 92 species. To date, staff have observed 246 bird species (112 of which are listed as priority species in Wisconsin’s All Bird Conservation Plan) using the habitat found within the Park System’s natural areas.

 In 2017 the DPRC completed a cooperative agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to collect baseline wildlife population data, including birds, throughout the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC). This was a three-year project that focussed a portion of the DPRC’s bird survey efforts in the Little Menomonee River, Menomonee River, and Milwaukee River corridors until June 2017. This data is now being collated and is being used to recommend habitat enhancement projects within the AOC. 

The Milwaukee County Zoo has been conducting bird banding on the zoo grounds since 2001 to determine the richness and abundance of migratory bird species utilizing the site during migration. The Zoo has identified 172 different species using the site as stopover habitat, 27 of which are listed as rare, threatened, or of special concern in Wisconsin.

Additional bird monitoring efforts are being made in Milwaukee County with the Lake Park Warbler Walks in spring and fall. Records are kept of every species observed, both visually and by call, and are posted online. The Urban Ecology Center hosts citizen-science based bird banding and bird walk programs in Washington Park, Riverside Park, and the Menomonee Valley summarizes their observations and submits them to eBird. Finally the Milwaukee Biome Project historically collected extensive migratory bird data at Kletzsch, Lake, Riverside, Greenfield, and Falk parks as well as one site along the Root River Parkway.

The data that has been collected via these various collaborative efforts has been, and will continue to be, directly incorporated into existing and future habitat/land management decisions within the Milwaukee County Park System.

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 Milwaukee County Park System contains just over 15,600 acres of parkland including 9,300 acres of undeveloped or restored, natural areas that serve as vital bird habitat. Habitat within the Park System is protected under County ordinance 47.08, which prohibits the “Injury to, destruction, or removal of public property.”

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

The Milwaukee County DPRC owns and manages nearly 75% of the remaining green space within Milwaukee County. The DPRC’s Natural Areas Program manages 10,000 acres within the Milwaukee County Park System. In order to efficiently and effectively manage the natural areas within the Park System, from both a social and ecological standpoint, the DPRC began developing and implementing Ecological Restoration & Management Plans for these natural areas. These planning documents act as a comprehensive guide for how each natural area should be managed over the course of a 10-year timeframe. A major component of these plans is focused on creating and improving habitat for breeding and migratory wildlife. Examples of these habitat improvements include: reforestation of turf grass/agricultural fields, invasive species removal, installation of pollinator gardens, and seeding native prairie plants. This restoration and management planning process has also been incorporated into SEWRPC Watershed Management Plans, the County’s Land and Water Resource Plan, and the DPRC’s internal decision making process. Several recent projects include a 0.7-acre prairie planting at Greenfield Park in 2017, reforestation of 3 acres of turf grass at Greenfield Park and reforestation of six acres of agricultural land in the Root River Pakway (focusing on native tree/shrub species beneficial to migratory birds) in 2016-2017, and the removal of invasive species populations which improves an average of 1000 acres of bird habitat each year. Finally, the DPRC has reached several agreements in 2017 that will transfer approximately 200 acres of currently private natural areas located within Milwaukee County to public ownership as new additions to our Park System in 2018. 

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 DPRC Natural Areas Program acts as a vital resource for the community by both providing training resources to the public regarding invasive species and by facilitating stewardship at natural areas within their communities. From 2009-2016, the Natural Areas Program and its partners have trained over 10,000 volunteers who have in turn donated nearly 169,000 hours towards restoration and management of the Park System’s natural resources. The DPRC works with local middle and high schools, colleges and universities, private corporations, and not-for-profit organizations to provide hands-on field-based education on invasive species identification and management throughout the Park System. Critical partners such as The Park People and their “WeedOut!” program provide numerous opportunities for the public to become involved with invasive species removal within the Park System’s natural areas under the guidance of the Natural Areas Program. The Milwaukee County DPRC has taken a leadership role (past President and past Secretary) within the Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium, which acts as an education and resource based Cooperative Weed Management Area for southeastern Wisconsin. Lastly, the Wehr Nature Center, which is part of the Milwaukee County Park System, provides programming for the public that engages them in invasive species education and management. The DPRC is also incredibly fortunate to have numerous additional partners such as the UEC, RRF, and HTF that directly work on DPRC property with their volunteers undertaking invasive species removal and native plant restoration projects. 

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.

Milwaukee County contains several segments of the Lake Michigan Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail including Discovery World, Havenwoods State Forest, Lakeshore State Forest, Milwaukee County Lake Shore Parks, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center & Doctors Park, Southern Milwaukee County Parks, Urban Ecology Center and & Milwaukee River Parks, and Whitnall Park and Wehr Nature Center. Trail maps are available online.

H. Show that the local Chamber of Commerce or a similar group (e.g., an Audubon chapter, Wild Ones, etc.) takes an active role in the planning process for protecting and enlarging favorable bird habitat.

The Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition (UEC, RRF, River Keeper, Bike Federation of WI, Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, Milwaukee County, and the Village of Shorewood) played an active role in convincing the City of Milwaukee to create and approve a Tree Protection ordinance (File #081570) that states "This ordinance prohibits, with limited exceptions, any person from removing, damaging, disturbing or otherwise destroying any living and structurally sound tree located within the primary environmental corridor in the Milwaukee River greenway site plan overlay zone unless the person has obtained a tree maintenance and conservation permit from the commissioner of public works. This ordinance also establishes various requirements that apply to all tree maintenance and conservation permits issued by the commissioner, including a requirement for the replacement of removed trees, with a preference for native species, and the prohibition of any tree removal or disturbance that would result in soil erosion or slope destabilization."

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

Several recent projects include a 0.7-acre prairie planting at Greenfield Park in 2017, reforestation of 3 acres of turf grass at Greenfield Park and reforestation of six acres of agricultural land in the Root River Pakway (focusing on native tree/shrub species beneficial to breeding and migratory birds) in 2016-2017, and the removal of invasive species populations which improves the ecology of 1000 acres of bird habitat each year. 

K. Implement a tree risk policy (see pg. 153) designed to leave dead trees standing as nesting and foraging resources for birds when it is safe to do so.

Though not in an official policy format, it is the DPRC's internal process to leave all dead snags standing unless there is a public safety concern. Natural Areas staff are actually actively creating snags as they conduct their oak woodland restoration project at Falk Park. In order to restore proper germination conditions for white oak and shagbark hickory staff are thinning maples (sugar and red) and American basswoods from the canopy. Three to six maples/basswoods per acre are girdled and left standing as future dead snags.

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

The DPRC Natural Areas staff, volunteers, and partner organizations work to improve the ecology of approximately 1000 acres of habitat each year through it natural areas activities. In the past 10 years the DPRC has planted 48-acres of prairie at Bender Park, reforested        5-acres and planted a 1-acre prairie at Grant Park (2015), 11-acres of prairie planted at Franklin Savanna, 21-acres reforested along the Root River Pkwy (2010-2017), 3-acres reforested at Greenfield Park (2017), 8.0 acres of woodland understory plantings in 2016 Park System-wide, and planted approximately 6-acres of pollinator gardens and native plant buffers along Park System lagoons and river ways in 12 parks.

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

Working with volunteers and partner organizations, the DPRC undertakes removal of 40 different invasive plant species which improves the ecology of approximately 1000 acres of bird habitat each year. The DPRC is currently inventorying, utilizing tablets and Arc Collector, all invasive plant populations located within the Park System's natural areas. Staff record phenological data, population size, and effectiveness of past treatments. 

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

The DPRC has several historic farm silos in the Park System, one of which has been confirmed as a breeding site for chimney swifts. This silo was scheduled for removal in 2018, however Natural Areas staff successfully advocated that the silo not be removed as long at it is structurally sound. The silo has since been removed from the demolition list. The DPRC also has two small chimney swift nesting colonies in the chimneys of two historic buildings in the Park System. Natural Areas staff advocated for any future repair or maintenance work on these chimneys only be conducted during the non-breeding season for chimney swifts.

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.).

Externally, the DPRC works in partnership with the Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout Program in Milwaukee County, through which participants implement projects such as building and installing wood duck and bluebird/tree swallow nest boxes within Park System’s natural areas. Since 2013 Eagle Scout candidates have installed wood duck boxes and bluebird boxes at Greenfield Park, Grobschmidt Park (Mudd Lake), Grant Park, Jackson Park, Brown Deer Park, Franklin Oak Savanna, the Little Menomonee River Parkway, Falk Park, Sheridan Park, Uihlein Park, Froemming Park, Bender Park, Whitnall Park, and Rainbow Airport Prairie. All boxes are monitored and maintained by DPRC staff and/or DPRC Citizen Science volunteers.

S. Demonstrate how a public golf course is managed to benefit birds.

The DPRC works with the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) through the placement of bluebird trails in Dretzka, Greenfield, and Grant Park Golf Courses. The DPRC’s Dretzka Golf Course has received the Audubon golf course certification. Staff are currently removing invasive species, monitoring wildlife populations, planting native plants for pollinators, conducting youth education events, testing water quality at the golf course as part of the certification process, and recently installed a bee pod/hive.

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.)

The DPRC and partners have created the 45-mile Forked Aster Hiking Trail System within the Park System’s natural areas. This was done to improve public access and appreciation of natural areas, provide sustainable hiking trails, reduce the spread of invasive species, and reduce the negative impacts on wildlife habitat from “social trails” within DPRC natural areas. These trails have provided excellent birding trail opportunities for area birders and bird information is placed within trailhead kiosks when they are available. Natural Areas staff also uploads its bird survey data in existing eBird designated ‘hot spots” so area birders can see what species they are likely to find at natural areas within the Park System. To date, 139 eBird “hotspots” have been designated within the Park System, and 31 of those sites also contain a section of the Forked Aster Hiking Trail System. The DRPC combines birding hotspot information on its website ( with it's hiking trail descriptions. DPRC staff and partners also lead birding walks on numerous trails during spring and fall migration periods. 

U. Show that your community maximizes the value of right-of-way space (e.g., power lines, pipelines, etc.) by planting them with native grasses, shrubs, herbs, and other prairie/grassland plants.

Numerous utility (power, gas, water, sewer, stormwater, etc) ROW easements cross the DPRC Park System. Before utility easement holders can enter and conduct work within these easements they are required to provide documentation clearly showing all proposed activities and potential impacts. They are required to provide an invasive species management plan listing how equipment will be cleaned before and after accessing sites as to prevent the introduction of invasive species, provide a list of what herbicides will be used, and provide a list of what materials will used for restoration work. When restoring the vegetation at a site contractors are required to use natural fiber erosion control mats (nylons fibers can cause wildlife mortality), plant DPRC approved seed mixes most of which are native species, control any DPRC rapid response invasive species such as Japanese knotweed within the utility corridor, and work during conditions that do not cause rutting or soil erosion. All of these requirements are collated in DPRC Right-of-Entry permits that must be issued before any work can be undertaken in a ROW running through DPRC property.  In certain circumstances, typially stormwater or drainage easementst,the DPRC requires a tree inventory and compensation to the tree replacment fund for any trees removed, and it also requires an inventory of rare native plants which need to be avoided during construction. 

Community Forest Management

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 DPRC has an active urban forestry program that is planting native hardwoods trees within the Park System. A significant part of this work has recently focused on replacing native ash trees, because EAB is causing a severe decline in forest cover. As previously noted in this application, the Natural Areas staff has also planted native trees and shrubs beneficial to birds as part of the DPRC’s turf grass and agricultural land conversion program. In the last 3-years the Natural Areas Program has planted approximately 3,100 native trees and shrubs as plant of this reforestation program. 

F. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

The DPRC has a Forestry Division that maintains the health of trees located throughout the Park System in the picnic areas, golf courses, parkways, dog parks, etc. Trained urban forestry staff (a number are certified arborists) conduct pruning to improve tree health, plant predominantly native tree species through their tree replacement program, and mitigate the impacts of EAB and gypsy moths in cooperation with DNR initiatives. The Natural Areas staff and its volunteers work to maintain the forestry health of the woodlands outside of the more “improved” areas of the Park System by removing invasive species, replanting native plants (woody & herbaceous), and undertaking reforestation with entirely native tree/shrub species in select tree planting areas. Natural Areas staff has also begun a pilot oak woodland restoration project at Falk Park to selectively thin the canopy to maintain and enhance plant diversity as well as habitat diversity. Through the removal of dense stands of sugar/red maple and American basswood, staff are improving forest habitat for native oak and hickory regeneration. The additional light reaching the forest floor allows for the growth of native woody understory vegetation, which is a habitat component all too often lacking from the Park System’s mature forests.

Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds

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

The Milwaukee County Zoo staff and volunteers work hard to minimize injury and mortality associated with bird window collisions. Existing structures are actively monitored and modified to help mitigate strikes. By applying stencils, striping, silhouettes, decals, netting and better planting practices, bird window collisions are greatly reduced and can be used as an educational tool with zoo visitors. Additionally, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee conducts a study to document window collisions on campus. The Wehr Nature Center also installed bird friendly windows in its recent renovation of the center’s education room, which has reduced the significant number of collisions to nearly zero collisions after window installation, and this allows education staff to discuss bird mortality and window strikes with the 1000's of visitors and school children that use the nature center each year.

C. Show that your municipality practices Integrated Pest Management, using natural pest control and the best available science to minimize pesticide and herbicide use.

The DPRC Natural Areas staff has created and regularly updates an Invasive Species Quick Reference Control Guide which lays out in detail the type of herbicides to use, the appropriate window for effectively applying these herbicides based on the invasive specie being treated, the appropriate conditions for use, and the minimum amount of herbicide necessary to control the 40 different invasive species the staff manages each year. The guide also highlights non-herbicide treatments, if possible, such as mowing, hand pulling, and bio-control listing the windows for effective control. The Natural Areas Program has also partnered with schools and universities to raise and release purple loosestrife beetles as bio-control in the recent past. Finally, as mentioned in category #1 Natural Areas staff is currently digitally mapping all invasive species populations within the Park System. One of the goals and implemented actions of this inventory is to find and remove "rapid response" populations of invasives such as, Japanese barberry, Japanese knotweed, lesser celandine, European privet, wayfaring tree, etc., that are not yet common in the Park System. By controlling these species at low population levels, staff can prevent them from becoming the next common buckthorn or garlic mustard and greatly reduce future herbicide use. 

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. 

Milwaukee County is home to 5 nature centers (Wehr Nature Center, UEC-3 centers two of which are located within county parks, and Schlitz Nature Center) which actively educate the county's youth and adults through a variety of diverse environmental education programs.

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.

Wehr Nature Center provides workshops that are open to the public regarding backyard birds including basic identification techniques for birds commonly seen at backyard feeders. Wehr Nature Center and Schlitz Audubon Nature Center also provide the state of Wisconsin's Master Naturalist Program. The WI Master Naturalist Volunteer Program is a statewide effort to promote awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the state’s natural resources. Students completing the program are certified Master Naturalists, and to maintain their certifications they have to volunteer 40 hours per year on restoration projects and attend and additional 8 hours of training annually.

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).

Wehr Nature Center continues to host its Woodcock Walk, a Christmas Bird Count, as well as numerous other bird walks throughout the year. Lake Park Friends and the Urban Ecology Center also both participate in and host a Christmas Bird Count. The DPRC Natural Areas staff actively participates in the WI BBA ii program which is one of the state's largest, if not the largest, citizen science based programs. 

D. Describe your community-sponsored annual bird festival. This must be a multi-day event or a truly exceptional one-day event.

The Urban Ecology Center hosts a week long "Brew City Birding Festival." A large number of the events are hosted within the Milwaukee County Park System at Riverside and Washington Parks, while other parks and parkways have been used for various fieldtrips associated with this event. 

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

The DPRC Natural Areas Program works with hundreds of volunteers each year, from middle school aged youth to the elderly, by offering engaging opportunities through its Citizen-science program such as its “Backyard Biodiversity” program. This annual event, which started as a pilot program in 2013, offers volunteers the opportunity to participate in various wildlife research surveys including breeding and migratory bird surveys. Volunteers are also engaged through stewardship opportunities restoring bird habitat throughout the Park System by planting native trees/shrubs and pollinator gardens, removing invasive species, monitoring bird boxes, and growing purple loosestrife beetles to protect wetlands. 

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 DPRC regularly undertakes projects to provide vital habitat for pollinators. In recent years it has planted 61 acres of native praire plants focusing on planting a diversity of plants that bloom spring through fall. The DPRC has installed a bee pod at Dretzka Golf Course as part of its Audubon certification and maintains a beehive at Wehr Nature Center for educational programming with area schools. The DPRC and its partner organizations have also planted pollinator gardens, rain gardens, or micro-prairies at parks (Grant, Nash, Riverside, Washington, Whitnall, Greenfield, Juneau, Lake, Doctors, and Kletzsch) throughout the system.

H. Document a substantial regular program that educates young people on any of the following topics: climate change, energy efficiency, green/bird-safe buildings, or environmental sustainability.

Wehr Nature Center regular provides this type of programming. For a list of current programs visit: The UEC and Schlitz Audubon would provide similar programming to the citizens of Milwaukee County, and more information on their programming can be found on their respective websites. 

I. Show that your municipality promotes and supports a bird club or other environmentally/ecologically-minded club. (Exclusions: Garden clubs, unless you demonstrate a strong focus on native plants)

The DPRC waives all rental fees for the WI Metro Audubon Society's regular use of the Wehr Nature Center's facility, which would add up to several thousand dollars annually. 

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.

Natural Areas staff, at a minimum, lead 6 fieldtrips each year within the Park System to highlight the unique natural resources, which does include bird populations within the Park System. Natural Areas staff has also given numerous presentations at local, regional, and national conferences highlighting the value and diversity of urban natural areas and the flora and fauna associated with these sites. Natural Areas staff has excellent educational relationships with UW-Milwaukee and Alverno College where our staff conduct lectures, lead fieldtrips, and provide in-depth Natural Areas internships for undergraduate students.

Energy & Sustainability

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 2007 the County Executive and the County Board approved Milwaukee County's Green Print plan . The goals of the plan are sustainable construction, wise use of energy resources, and the education of staff and citizens on "green" initiatives that can be implemented at home and at work . This effort is led by the Milwaukee County's Office of Sustainability.

J. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

The Milwaukee Public Museum has installed a Green Roof, a stormwater court yard, and a 5-story solar panel wall to improve the museum's energy efficiency . Boerner Botanical Gardens installed a major rainwater collection system that captures run-off from the parking lot and building that is then filtered through an above ground man-made stream and utilized to water the gardens . 

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.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and County Executive sign a resolution recognizing International Migratory Bird on an annual basis.

The Milwaukee County Zoo hosts an annual eco-friendly event called “Party for the Planet” that commemorates International Migratory Bird Day and Earth Day that educates participants on how they can help migratory birds. Additionally, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center hosts an event honoring IMDB and the Urban Ecology Center hosts their Green Birding Challenge to celebrate the IMBD.

Joined Bird City: 2015

Population: 948,322

Incorporated: 1834

Area: 1190 mi2

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