Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

City of South Milwaukee

City of South Milwaukee

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.

In May of 2016, South Milwaukee adopted its 2035 Comprehensive Plan (http://www.smwi.org/172/Comprehensive-Plan). The Plan is an update to the city’s 2020 plan adopted under Wisconsin’s 1999 comprehensive planning legislation, or “Smart Growth” legislation. The plan includes a detailed analysis of the City’s parks and natural areas and efforts to enhance those spaces. It also includes opportunities to more closely tie environmental considerations into the redevelopment of the city, including its brownfields. Among them:

  • The ongoing Oak Creek Watershed Restoration Plan, an effort led by city officials in partnership with Milwaukee County, the Metropolitan Sewerage District, and various other governmental and advocacy groups to revitalize the 28 square-mile watershed behind environmental, ecological and recreational priorities. The study will include a detailed analysis of options to revitalize South Milwaukee’s Mill Pond and other bird habitats. The final report and plan is available as PDFs for downloading on the city's website: http://www.smwi.org/172/Comprehensive-Plan.
  • The city’s development of a lakeshore park, a project that seeks to restore wetlands and open lakefront access to 18 acres of formerly contaminated land south of the South Milwaukee Wastewater Treatment Facility. The city continues to seek additional grant funding for this project, which is envisioned as a “passive park” to be developed over the next 10-20 years.
  • The city’s commitment to urban forestry. See Category 2.

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)

Ten eBird Hotspots are located within South Milwaukee. Birders taking part in Citizen Science monitoring through Cornell University’s eBird have documented 241 species in Grant Park alone. A few species could be added to this when counting those checklists from the Wil-O-Way area of the park or those who have not linked their report to a hot spot. The Mill Pond has had 118 species documented to date. 

South Milwaukee contained 2 atlas blocks of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II Survey that ended in 2019:

  • South Milwaukee SW Block had 16 volunteer participants and as of January 2019 has confirmed 54 species of breeding birds.
  • South Milwaukee CW Block had 28 volunteer participants. It is a priority block and confirmed 62 species of breeding birds.

Friends of Grant Park, a volunteer run organization, has been monitoring bluebird boxes at the Grant Park Golf Course since 2007 through the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW). The bluebird monitoring has has two volunteers who monitor 10 boxes. The Milwaukee County Department of Parks Recreation & Culture’s (DPRC) Natural Areas Program staff monitors additional houses at Grant Park.

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.

Friends of Grant Park hosts 8 Weed Out dates per year, averaging 10 volunteers who work 3-4 volunteer hours each work day. Not only are volunteers educated on the identification of both native and invasive species, but they are also informed of why the removal is of utmost importance for protection of native species. Friends of Grant Park also includes information on invasive species such as dame’s rocket, garlic mustard, honeysuckle, porcelainberry and buckthorn on their website and Facebook page.

In response to finding trapped and often deceased birds and bats, The Friends also undertook a program in 2015 which continues, the Burdock Busters, using a specially designed spade, “The Parsnip Predator” to slice the root below grade of the tough-to-eradicate non-native burdocks. Four Burdock Buster mornings occurred in June 2018 with the help of between 4 and 20 volunteers each morning.

Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse (FOMP) also work on keeping invasive species out of Grant Park, the Oak Creek Parkway, and the Mill Pond. In 2020, FOMP has contributed 8 volunteer hours removing invasive species around the Mill Pond.

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.

South Milwaukee’s Grant Park and Oak Creek Parkway are part of the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail’s Lake Michigan Region and is listed as such in both the hardcopy trail guides and online trail maps. Furthermore, Warnimont Park just to the north of Grant, and Sheridan Park, just to the north of Warnimont, are also listed.

Community Forest Management

F. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

South Milwaukee has made significant strides in protecting and enhancing its urban forest, and in promoting effective community forest management. It started with the commissioning of an urban forestry plan and tree inventory in 2014 in response to emerald ash borer concerns. The City began enacting the plan immediately. Early efforts focused on removal of dead and dying trees and have evolved to include a strong focus on replanting and reforestation. This includes the creation of two new sustainable planting programs. Since 2015, the City has partnered with the South Milwaukee School District on Arbor Day events in which fourth-graders at the district’s four elementary schools learn about and plant trees outside their school buildings. Also, the city, in partnership with its newly created Beautification Committee, enacted an Adopt-a-Tree program in 2017, with 100 trees being planted in neighborhoods across the city in 2017 and 2018. It will return in 2019, and the goal is to continue this program with 50 trees being planted annually. The City also planted more than 50 new trees downtown in December of 2016, the single-largest tree planting efforts in decades in South Milwaukee, and is planting several dozen new trees along Nicholson Avenue. All of this work (and progress made) was done within existing staffing, contractors, and consultants. Importantly, the City is making significant strides to formalize an urban forestry program, with dedicated staff and leadership, to ensure the long-term sustainability of our efforts. The City eventually plans to apply for Tree City USA status.

Milwaukee County has also been aggressive in its replanting work, planting hundreds of new trees in Grant Park and in the Oak Creek Parkway to replace trees that were lost as part of emerald ash borer. The park’s Forestry Division 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, in the nearby City of Oak Creek, 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 City of South Milwaukee website was just relaunched and the Bird City page will soon be added. It will provide information about the threat that outdoor cats pose to the health of humans, cats, and wildlife as well as providing tips on how to prevent window collisions.

In late October 2017, Bird City volunteers and South Milwaukee’s mayor Erik Brooks launched the South Milwaukee Bird City Facebook page. It currently has over 405 (and growing) active followers, plus many others who visit the page regularly and share its content. The threat of outdoor cats, window collision prevention, and the promotion of healthy and safe habitats are regular topics on the page. The page also contains photos of the birds that are found in the city (photographed by local wildlife photographers) in an effort to create awareness and affinity so that those the page reaches are more inclined to take action.

L. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

Burdock removal: The Burdock Busters program conducted by the Friends of Grant Park is helping to eradicate burdock from the parks which has become a hazard to migrating birds within the Lake Michigan flyway. Kinglets (ruby-crowned and golden-crowned) seem to be especially vulnerable to getting stuck on the burs of the plant. Volunteers have also found Little Brown Bats stuck to the burs. A special spade, the Parsnip Predator, which slices the burdock root below grade is used for this purpose and the Friends have done a great job in getting volunteers excited about becoming part of the Burdock Brigade. Four Burdock Busters were conducted in June 2017 and four in June 2018, involving teens and adults and will continue each June until no more burdock is found.

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.

The City of South Milwaukee’s website provides tips for creating a bird-friendly yard. The importance of, and the ways to, create bird friendly habitat is a regular topic on the South Milwaukee Bird City Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/SMBirdCity/

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).

South Milwaukee is part of the Hales Corners circle of the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). A group of about 12 volunteers each year dedicate their CBC hours to the South Milwaukee and surrounding eastern lakeshore area (Oak Creek, Cudahy, and Bay View). A lunch is provided each year at a South Milwaukee Home for all these volunteers. A separate gathering takes place at the Wehr Nature Center for the western area participants. COVID prevented the lunch gathering in 2020, but we hope it will return in 2021. The survey results from the South Milwaukee region are then sent to the Wehr Nature Center where it is combined with the results of the Hales Corners CBC Circle. A typical Hales Corners CBC tallies 60 species. Birds of interest have included Northern Shrike, Snowy Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Black-backed gull, Bald Eagle, and a variety of winter ducks. On non-pandemic years when a gathering can take place, a dry erase board is set up at lunch where birders can add the species they've documented. This list is then shared on Facebook to create excitement and awareness of the Christmas Bird Count.

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

Warbler Walks: Friends of Grant Park leads bird walks in the spring which are advertised as “Warbler Walks” because the walks focus on the migratory birds, especially warblers, which pass through the park every year. The walks are led by knowledgeable birders and welcome participants at every level of interest. The educational conversations that are part of every walk include identification, bird migration information, dangers to birds during migration, nesting information, and ethical birding and nature viewing habits. The Warbler Walks start the last Sunday in April and continue every Sunday through the end of May. Mother’s Day is typically the best attended walk, attracting a couple dozen or more birders each year. The Warbler Walks began in 2005, initiated by the late Wisconsin ornithologist and ecologist Noel Cutright. They were not held in 2020 because the paths can be narrow and the group large, making it unsafe. We hope to continue them in 2021 if it is safe to do so. In 2019 our partner organization Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society received a grant for binoculars, which were lent out to Warbler Walk participants who did not have binoculars or who had inadequate binoculars to see the details of the colorful full migrants.

Suburban Soles Guided Nature Walks take place the second and fourth Sunday morning each month from June through September for a total of 8 walks each year. Some walks were not held in 2020 because of COVID, but we hope to resume the full schedule in 2021. Suburban Soles is a series of walks hosted by Friends of Grant Park and featuring an expert guest guide for each. Participants had the opportunity to study and learn about various topics such as native plants, invasive species, water life, birds and bird habitat, and health and history of the natural areas of South Milwaukee and the Oak Creek. A list of events, including topics covered and experts guides will be posted on the Friends of Grant Park page when the schedule is determined. (http://fogp.org) Each event is also advertised on Friends of Grant Park's and Friends of the Mill Pond's Facebook pages, as well as other related pages.

Trek n Treat was first implemented in October 2016. The annual event, sponsored by Friends of Grant Park, with volunteer support from the Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society, Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse, Milwaukee County Parks, the South Milwaukee Historical Society, and others, takes place at Grant Park’s Picnic Area 5 from 1-4 pm in mid-October. The family-friendly Trek n Treat invites participants to walk a course through the woods and Seven Bridges Ravine. There are approximately 20 stops along the way where trekkers meet with costumed woodland friends who give important lessons about the park and hand out treats to children. Among the educational lessons are: animal and plant identification; birds and nest identification; the importance and protection of diverse habitats; importance of Lake Michigan to people and nature and how to protect it; protecting the park by staying on trails and properly disposing of garbage and dog waste; the history of the park and much more. At the pavilion where the walk begins there are more educational opportunities for kids and adults alike. Of particular note is information on preventing bird window strikes and an owl pellet dissection station. Both are highly visited busy stops during the afternoon. Participation for Trek 'n Treat is $2 per person, although the pavilion activities require no admission fee. The October 2018 had the largest attendance to date with an estimated 230 trekkers. The 2020 event was cancelled, but plans to reinstate it in 2021 will be announced when it is determined that it will be safe to gather.

Grant Park Owl Prowl is held each January and led by a naturalist of the Wehr Nature Center. Grant Park is home to Eastern Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, and has been visited by Snowy Owls and Northern Saw Whet Owls. Depending on weather, the events attract between a dozen and 30 participants. It is advertised on our partner Facebook pages, South Milwaukee Bird City Facebook page, and the events postings at the Wehr Nature Center.

G. Provide a link to your community’s Bird City Wisconsin webpage, which must be visible from the main page of your municipal website (it may be located at the first level of a drop down menu on the main page but cannot be any less visible) OR demonstrate that your Bird City effort has a significant social media presence.

https://smwi.org/birdcity/

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.

South Milwaukee did not celebrate World Migratory Bird Day in 2020, but plans to celebrate in 2021 with a Big Sit held in the Summer (date yet to be determined). A Big Sit is a birding event that is fun for birders of all abilities. It has a picnic/tailgate feel to it. The goal of a big sit is to identify as many species of birds in a designated time frame. Every bird that is counted in the Big Sit must be observed from a 17 foot diameter circle. We will have at least one scope for sharing and a displayed dry erase board to write each species of bird seen and identified from the circle. Big Sits typically are a curious sight for nonbirders who often stop to ask what is going on, which gives the Big Sit participants the opportunity to explain the event, point out the list of birds on the list, and invite them to join. It is a great way to engage others, and folks can come and go as they please. We'll also supply extra binoculars, borrowed from the Wisconsin Metro Audubon, for those who need them. Mayor Erik Brooks will stop in to greet participants and acknowledge World Migratory Bird Day.

Joined Bird City: 2017

Population: 21,156

Incorporated: 1897

Area: 4.81 mi2

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