Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

Milwaukee County


Community Achievements

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 has collected breeding and migratory bird data at 121 sites within the Park System’s natural areas. Staff conducted 1,123 winter, migratory, and breeding bird surveys in 2016 making 123,795 bird observations made up of 204 species. All data has been entered into eBird. In addition, staff participated in year two of the Breeding Bird Atlas and made 586 breeding bird confirmations within the Park System for 77 species. To date, staff have observed 236 bird species (82 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.


The DPRC is also working through 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. This is a three-year project that will focus the DPRC’s bird survey efforts in the Little Menomonee River, Menomonee River, and Milwaukee River corridors until June 2017.

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 and summarizes their observations. Finally the Milwaukee Biome Project 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 15,000 acres of parkland including 9,200 acres of undeveloped, 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 green space left 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 48-acre prairie planting at Bender Park (an important grassland bird habitat area) in 2013, reforestation of 5 acres of turf grass at Grant Park and one acre at Doctors Park (focusing on tree/shrub species beneficial to migratory birds) in 2013-2014, the protection of Mangan Woods for breeding hooded warblers and Acadian flycatchers in 2014, and the removal of invasive species populations which improves an average of 1000 acres of bird habitat each year. Finally, in 2015 the DPRC received a Root Pike/WINN grant to reforest a 6.9 acre agricultural field directly adjacent to the Root River. This filled in the last gap in what was otherwise a 122-acre contiguous forest.

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 2010-2015, the Natural Areas Program and its partners have trained over 8,981 volunteers who have in turn donated nearly 123,000 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 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.

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.

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 an average of 1000 acres of habitat each year through it natural areas activities. In the past five years the DPRC has also planted 48-acres of prairie at Bender Park, 5-acres of native trees at Grant Park, 11-acres of prairie at Franklin Savanna, 6.9-acres reforestation along the Root River (2015), reforestation along the Root River 11.8-acres (2016), 8.0 acres of woodland understory plantings in 2016, and approximately 5-acres of pollinator gardens and native plant buffers along Park System lagoons and river ways in 11 parks.

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.).

As previous stated under Category 1 in the basic qualification criteria, the DPRC works with many Eagle Scout candidates to install wood duck boxes within the Park System. The DPRC has also partnered with the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory through the placement of kestrel boxes at Bender, Grobschmidt, Warnimont, Falk, and Rainbow Airport Prairie Parks. Forty wood duck houses and 88 bluebird/tree swallow boxes installed to date with another 80 houses are currently being constructed by scouts.

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, conducting youth education events, and testing water quality at the golf course as part of the certification process.

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 over the last 6-years 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, 131 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.

V. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

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 at Greenfield Park, Grobschmidt Park (Mudd Lake), Grant Park, Jackson Park, Brown Deer Park, Mitchell Park, the Little Menomonee River Parkway, Falk Park, Sheridan Park, Uihlein Park, Froemming Park, Bender Park, Rainbow Airport Prairie, and the Root River Parkway (Anderson Lake).

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 hardwoods and shrubs beneficial to birds as part of the DPRC’s turf grass and agricultural land conversion (green infrastructure) 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 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 forest stand improvement project at Falk Park to selectively thin the woodland to maintain and enhance plant diversity as well as habitat diversity. Through the removal of dense stands of sugar maple and basswood, staff are improving forest habitat for native oak and hickory regeneration. The additional light reaching the forest floor also 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 has begun 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.

Public Education

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.

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.

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 high school aged youth to the elderly, by offering engaging opportunities through its Citizen-science program such as its “Backyard Biodiversity Event”. 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 and pollinator gardens, removing invasive species, and growing purple loosestrife beetles to protect wetlands. One program in particular, the Student Conservation Program, engages urban high school aged youth in a six-week summer conservation program, where students assist with habitat improvement projects (i.e. native plantings and invasive species removal) at 4-6 sites each July and August.

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, on average, leads 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, led fieldtrips, and provide in-depth Natural Areas internships for undergraduate students.

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)

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 Migratory Bird Day.

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Community Details

Joined Bird City: 2015

Population: 948,322

Incorporated: 1834

Area: 1190 mi2

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