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. 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. Early chapters of the plan have been drafted and shared with the public, with additional chapters expected to be released and discussed at public meetings in 2019-20. The final report and plan is expected to be released by the end of 2020.
  • 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 renewed 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 230 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 112 species documented to date. 

South Milwaukee contains 2 atlas blocks of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II Survey:

  • South Milwaukee SW Block has 16 volunteer participants and as of January 2019 has confirmed 48 species of breeding birds.
  • South Milwaukee CW Block has 28 volunteer participants. It is a priority block and as of January 2019 has confirmed 58 species of breeding birds.

Friends of Grant Park, a volunteer run organization, has been monitoring bluebird boxes at the Grant Park Golf Course for 12 years through the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW). The bluebird monitoring has had up to three volunteers, and currently 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 new program in 2015, 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 2018, FOMP has contributed 8 volunteer hours eradicating buckthorn and other invasive species.

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’s website includes a Bird City page that provides 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 225 (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 newest 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-crowed) 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.

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. 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. 

With the renovations of the Wehr Nature Center, South Milwaukee volunteers invited the western area participants to South Milwaukee's Grant Park Club House for lunch for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count. Over two dozen volunteers gathered and the public was invited to stop in. Friends of Grant Park and Friends of the Mill Pond volunteered to set up and serve lunch. A dry-erase board was set up at the club house entrance for participants to write the different species of birds to give the public an idea of what birds can be found in our area in the winter. A photo gallery was also on display from a few local photographers to delight and educate the volunteers and public.

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.

Suburban Soles Guided Nature Walks took place the second and fourth Sunday morning each month from June through September for a total of 8 walks in 2018. 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, and health and history of the natural areas of South Milwaukee and the Oak Creek. For a list of events, including topics covered and experts guides visit:

Hawk Watch Program was implemented in the fall of 2018 by the Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society with the hope of continuing the program for future fall migrations. Volunteer Jim Cieslak carefully monitored weather reports for days that seemed promising for hawk migration. He conducted morning hawk watches at Lake Vista Park, just south of South Milwaukee. He invited all interested to join him for the watch. Participants could use his birding scope to view migrating birds along the lake shore. These Hawk Watches were posted on the Bird City Facebook Page. 

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.

Birds and Bards is a program featuring local poet and member of Sheridan Park Friends, Pat Carney, and South Milwaukee birder Rita Flores Wiskowski, a board member of Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse. Pat’s poetry praises the wonders of nature and birds, especially from the local region. The program is a back and forth presentation of poetry by Pat followed by important bird facts and photo presentation by Rita. The presentation highlights the beauty of the migratory route of which the south shore parks are part and the importance of bird habitat and conservation. It is meant to entertain, educate, and welcome audiences to become more aware, appreciative, and protective of our local flora and fauna. The first Birds and Bards presentation took place at the Sheridan Park Pavilion on Friday evening April 28, 2017. It was sponsored by Sheridan Park Friends focusing on spring migration. Pat and Rita were invited to present two more Birds and Bards programs in September 2017 focusing on nesting birds and fall migration. The program has been well-received, so it was revived in May 2018 at the South Milwaukee Town Hall as the main program for South Milwaukee's World Migratory Bird Day Celebration.

Birds of a Feather Festival was held on May 17, 2015 to educate the South Milwaukee community on birds, birding, and the importance of bird conservation. The half-day festival was held at the Warming House on the Mill Pond in South Milwaukee. It featured stations where participants could color pictures of birds; practice using binoculars; make a bird feeder with peanut butter and seeds; learn about the hazards to birds, such as window strikes and outdoor cats; and go on a bird hike led by experienced birders. Supporting organizations included Friends of Grant Park, Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society, Milwaukee County Parks, and the U.S. Department of Forestry. Even Woodsy Owl made an appearance.

Schlitz Audubon Live Raptor Program was held at the Grant Park Golf Course Clubhouse in December of 2015. It was co-sponsored by Friends of Grant Park and Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse. Over 50 community members were in attendance to learn about and meet education raptors from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

BioBlitz took part at Grant Park on June 10 and 11, 2016. The BioBlitz, a program of the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM), is part contest, part festival, part educational event, and part scientific endeavor where MPM brings together a group of scientists and citizen scientists in a race against time to see how many species they can count in a 24-hour biological survey of a Wisconsin park. The 2016 BioBlitz in Grant Park hosted 83 surveyors from 21 organizations throughout the state, including: universities; county, state, and federal parks organizations; local nature centers; parks friends groups; scientific organizations; and more. Surveyors found 14 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians and reptiles, 13 species of mammals, 24 species of other invertebrates, 42 species of spiders, 82 species of birds, 353 species of insects, and 431 species of plants, throughout Grant Park and along the nearby Oak Creek to the Mill Pond. A few interesting discoveries of rare or unusual plants, moths, and beetles were found during the 2016 BioBlitz.

Canopy Talks are short educational programming hosted by the South Milwaukee Historical Society. They are free and open to the public. The July 2, 2016 Canopy Talk was entitled, “Bird of the Mill Pond.” The speaker was Rita Flores Wiskowski, who serves on the boards for both the Wisconsin Metro Audubon Society, and Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse. She talked about the migratory birds and nesting birds found at the Mill Pond to about 25 participants on the South Milwaukee Historical Society lawn. She pointed out the factors that make the pond an inviting spot for birds and nature viewers.

Wulff Lodge Garden was restored by Friends of Grant Park in 2016. The garden is attached to a 100 year old historic structure, the Wulff Lodge. The original home of the first Park Horticulturist, Frederick Wulff, now serves to host scouting and other non-profit youth groups. The garden includes a short narrative about mostly native, habitat-friendly perennials along with Hummingbird-friendly annuals of the Americas, and is featured this year in the City of South Milwaukee’s Garden Walk on June 24th.

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.

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.

World Migratory Bird Day was celebrated on May 12 at the South Milwaukee City Hall. It began with an address from Mayor Erik Brooks. He congratulated Friends of Grant Park for receiving the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s Noel J. Cutright Conservation Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to bird conservation in Wisconsin. He also read the WMBD proclamation. The main feature of the evening was a Birds and Bards program featuring local poet and member of Sheridan Park Friends, Pat Carney, and South Milwaukee birder Rita Flores Wiskowski, a board member of Friends of the Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse. Pat’s poetry praises the wonders of nature and birds, especially from the local region. The program is a back and forth presentation of poetry by Pat followed by important bird facts and photo presentation by Rita. The presentation highlights the beauty of the migratory route of which the south shore parks are part and the importance of bird habitat and conservation. It is meant to entertain, educate, and welcome audiences to become more aware, appreciative, and protective of our local flora and fauna. The first Birds and Bards presentation took place at the Sheridan Park Pavilion on Friday evening April 28, 2017. It was sponsored by Sheridan Park Friends focusing on spring migration. Pat and Rita were invited to present two more Birds and Bards programs in September 2017 focusing on nesting birds and fall migration. The program has been well-received, so it was revived in for South Milwaukee's World Migratory Bird Day Celebration. The presentation was followed by refreshments and conversation. After the program, participants were invited to continue discussion and celebration at Moran’s Pub, a local establishment that has been supportive of the City’s bird and conservation efforts. 

Joined Bird City: 2017

Population: 21,156

Incorporated: 1897

Area: 4.81 mi2

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