Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

Madison Enacts State’s First Bird-Friendly Building Law

Madison, Wisconsin, bird-friendly

The Madison Common Council has unanimously adopted Wisconsin’s first bird-friendly building ordinance. The city-wide ordinance will require large construction and expansion projects to use modern bird-safe strategies and materials that allow birds to see glass. The new requirements, drawn up with input from American Bird Conservancy, are expected to dramatically reduce bird mortalities. The ordinance goes into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

“The well-being of birds and people in Wisconsin are very intertwined, from the economic benefits of tourism and birdwatching to free services like pest control and pollination,” says Matt Reetz, executive director of Madison Audubon, one of the organizations that advocated for the ordinance. “We really must do what we can to protect birds, and this is a straightforward and important step in doing so. I’m proud of our city for taking this step.”

The ordinance, adopted Aug. 4, 2020, was introduced by Alds. Marsha Rummel and Keith Furman and drafted by city staff in consultation with planners from other cities that have implemented similar bird-friendly standards.

A coalition of local environmental groups studying the bird-collision problem also provided strong support for the ordinance. This group, called the Bird Collision Corps, is coordinated by Madison Audubon, the UW-Madison’s Facilities Planning and Management Department, the university's Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, and American Bird Conservancy.

“The City of Madison’s unanimous adoption of bird-friendly building standards puts it at the front of a growing movement of communities that are doing their part to save the nearly a billion birds that die after colliding with glass in the United States each year,” said Bryan Lenz, American Bird Conservancy’s glass collisions program manager.

Lenz has been involved in the Bird Collision Corps and development of the Madison ordinance. “Not to mention that saving birds is the right thing to do, both ethically and for a healthy environment,” he added. Lenz also chairs the board for Bird City Wisconsin, which has recognized some 110 communities in the state, including Madison, for their bird-conservation efforts. Madison is a High-Flyer.

Research shows that residences that are 1 to 3 stories tall account for 43.6 percent of collision-related fatalities, while 56.3 percent of collisions happen at low-rise buildings (4 to 11 floors). Those two types of buildings account for most of Madison’s cityscape. Only 0.1 percent of bird deaths happen after collisions with buildings 12 stories or higher.

This article was adapted from Facility Executive magazine.


Read more:

Read Madison's Bird-Safe Glass Ordinance.

Bird Collision Corps

First Bird-Friendly Building Ordinance in Wisconsin Passed (Facility Executive, Aug. 13, 2020).

New York City Passes a Landmark Bill to Make More Buildings Bird-Friendly (Audubon, Dec. 10, 2019)

Bird City Helps Bucks Open the World’s First Bird-Friendly Arena, Oct. 17, 2018

Bird–building collisions in the United States: Estimates of annual Mortality and Species Vulnerability (The Condor, Jan. 2, 2014)

San Francisco Mayor Approves New Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings (ABC, Oct. 11, 2011)


Chimney Swifts! Now Is the Time to Count!

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swifts are on the decline, and we need YOUR help in identifying roost chimneys and counting the swifts that use them. It’s easy and fun to conduct a “Swift Night Out.” By identifying roost chimneys, we’ll have a better chance of saving them.

Follow these additional guidelines to increase your event’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic: Choose a site that provides adequate room to spread out. Invite a small group, such as your family or those living in your residence. And wear masks if you can’t practice social distancing.

A complete guide to hosting a “Swift Night Out” event is available on the website of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group. Here’s how to host your own.

1. Pick one or more nights from early August in northern Wisconsin through mid- to late September in southern Wisconsin.

2. Look for tall brick chimneys (or ones on homes) that are uncapped. Watch to see where swifts are feeding and congregating.

3. Observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before sunset until 10 minutes after the last swift enters the chimney. Count (or estimate) the number of swifts as they enter the chimney. It’s useful to count in groups of 5 or 10 birds at a time when many birds pour into the chimney in a short period of time.

4. Enter the data on eBird (preferred!). When prompted for location, map your roost site to an exact address or point. After you enter the number of Chimney Swifts, please use the hash tag #swiftwi in the Chimney Swift details section. This will help us greatly in accessing the data.

If you want to go above and beyond and be a rock star, please add additional information in the Chimney Swift details section, in this exact order, with semicolons separating the data: #swiftwi; the type of building (residence, school, church, business, hospital, apartment, swift tower or structure, etc.); the condition of the chimney (in good shape; in need of repair); any other notes. Here's an example: #swiftwi; residence; chimney in need of repair; any other notes.

Please also include any Common Nighthawks you see. These aerial insectivores are also in decline.

If you don't use eBird, send the same information as above plus date of observation, exact start time, length of observation at the roost site, and your name, mailing address, and email address to Fred Dike, 2613 Waltham Rd., Madison, WI 53711 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More information about Chimney Swifts and how to help protect them can be found on the website of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group.

Article by Karen Etter Hale.


Read more:

Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group

How to host a “Swift Night Out” event (pdf).

Get Started with eBird (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Survey seeks to ID chimneys providing Chimney Swift habitat (July 27, 2020).

Photo by Jim McCulloch - Flickr: Chimney swift overhead, CC BY 2.0,


Survey seeks to ID chimneys providing Chimney Swift habitat

Chimney Swift in chimney

July 27, 2020 - Brick chimneys may be a key component to conserving acrobatic, fast-flying Chimney Swifts.

That's why the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group is making a special appeal to Bird City Wisconsin communities and their residential and commercial property owners to take an online survey if their chimneys are currently being used by swifts. The Chimney Swift survey is online at

Information gained by the survey will help shape a pilot project aimed at helping owners pay for chimney repairs, so the owners are more likely to keep the structures. Biologists with Wisconsin DNR's Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation (NHC) are part of the working group.

“Sadly, Chimney Swifts, like many other aerial insectivores including whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, and swallows, are declining,” said Rich Staffen, an NHC biologist and working group member (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). “There are no definitive reasons identified yet for why this is, but the ongoing decline in insect populations is a major concern, and bird experts also know the removal or capping of old chimneys is removing suitable nesting and roosting locations for these birds.”

Chimney Swifts nest in eastern North America (east of the Rockies) in the summer and migrate to South America in the fall. Historically, the birds congregated before migrating in large standing hollow trees in old-growth forests. However, as old-growth forests disappeared from North America, the swifts discovered that brick chimneys served as an easy and abundant replacement.

Chimney Swifts have slender bodies, very long, narrow, curved wings, and short tapered tails. They fly rapidly, beating their wings nearly constantly, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. The birds often give a distinctive high-pitched twittering call while flying.

Swifts can cling to a rough vertical surface like the inside of a hollow tree or a chimney. Hundreds of native Chimney Swifts may congregate in communal roosts, gathering strength before flying to South America and creating a spectacle that looks like smoke pouring into brick chimneys in the fall.

“Chimneys are crucial habitat for swifts, which depend upon manmade structures for nesting and roosting before fall migration,” said Sandy Schwab, chair of the working group (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), adding that a member of the working group may contact respondents in the future to discuss their answers. “We’d like to know if you have a chimney that is being used by swifts for nesting or resting, and if you do, if it’s in need of repairs. This information will help us develop our project to help preserve habitat for chimney swifts.”

The survey will help working group members understand which chimneys are being used for roosting and nesting by these birds and if those chimneys require any repair to keep them as a viable option for the birds into the future.


Read more:

Learn more about Chimney Swifts (All About Birds).

Take the Chimney Swift Survey.

Learn more about the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group.


Photo: An adult Chimney Swift and a nestling rest in a stick nest inside a chimney. Photo by Nancy J. Nabak.


Bird Cities Can Compete for EAB Funding

Emerald Ash Borer

Since one of the six categories for recognition as a Bird City is Community Forest Management, check this out:

The WDNR received $175,000 in Forest Health and Resilience funding from the U.S. Forest Service to assist communities in response to the catastrophic loss of urban tree canopy due to the emerald ash borer (EAB). The $175,000 will be administered through the competitive State Urban Forestry Grants program and subawarded to cities, villages, towns, counties, tribes, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Projects funded with the Forest Health and Resilience funds will focus on EAB response on public lands, including the removal and replacement of ash trees. EAB treatment will not be funded with these dollars.

These projects will further the Forest Service’s national priorities to "protect forests from threats" and "enhance public benefits from trees and forests." They aim to help make Wisconsin communities safer, healthier, and happier places to live, work, and play. That aligns with the goals of Bird City Wisconsin.


Read more:

See all Bird City recognition criteria requirements.

2021 DNR Urban Forestry grant application are opening soon (June 12, 2020).

$175,000 Additional Urban Forestry Grant Funding Available for EAB: Ash Tree Removals and Replacements

Read more about State Urban Forestry grants.

Photo: Adult emerald ash borer by David Cappaert, courtesy of National Invasive Species Information Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Bird City Awards Grants to Six Communities

Bird City Wisconsin Small Grants

Bird City Wisconsin announced on May 27, 2020, that it will award small grants to six Bird City communities: Bayfield, Fond du Lac, Madison, Ozaukee County, Sheboygan, and Wausau.

The grants are intended to kickstart local projects that help Bird City communities create and protect bird habitat, educate residents about the many positive interactions between birds and people, and reduce threats to birds. 

This is the first year that Bird City Wisconsin, a program of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Port Washington, has awarded small grants. The grants are available to Bird City communities only.

“The goal of the small-grants program is to provide a helping hand to Bird City communities that are just a modest funding boost away from accomplishing something really great for birds,” said Bird City Wisconsin director Chuck Hagner. “We’re delighted to support these high-impact local initiatives with our inaugural grants and look forward to making additional grants in the years to come.”

Members of the Bird City board of directors evaluated applications and awarded the grants based on the urgency of the project, its potential impact, a community’s ability to complete it, the need for funding, and the number of applications received. The board members awarded a total of $1,890 in grants to the following Bird City communities:

  • To Bayfield, recognized as Bird City since 2012: $500 to produce and install an interpretive sign near a new native-plant garden at the Gil Larsen Trailhead, gateway to Bayfield’s Big Ravine Preserve.
  • To Fond du Lac, a Bird City since 2012 and a High Flyer: $100 to help plant swamp white oaks and understory shrubs in Lakeside Park, on the shore of Lake Winnebago.
  • To Madison, a Bird City since 2013 and a High Flyer: $190 for a fall seed mix to assist in the creation of a wet-mesic native prairie on the Starkweather Creek watershed in the city.
  • To Ozaukee County, recognized as Bird City since 2010 and a High Flyer: $500 to help purchase and install nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in restored prairie at Tendick Nature County Park and Virmond County Park.
  • To Sheboygan, a Bird City since 2013: $100 to support the removal of invasive species and the creation of bioswales, rain gardens, and educational signage in the bluff community in North Point Park.
  • And to Wausau, a Bird City since 2012 and a High Flyer: $500 to restore native plantings and erect educational signage on Barker-Stewart Island, located in the Wisconsin River in downtown Wausau.

Bird City Wisconsin is supported by the Bird Protection Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of the Wisconsin and other generous conservation-minded donors.

The program was created in 2009 and began recognizing communities the following year. It recognizes municipalities for the conservation and education activities that they undertake to make their communities healthy for birds... and people.

To be recognized, a community must meet criteria spread across six categories: habitat creation and protection, community forest management, limiting threats to birds, education, energy and sustainability, and the official recognition and celebration of World Migratory Bird Day. Communities that go above and beyond in their conservation and education programs achieve High Flyer status.

To date, 108 communities have been recognized as Bird Cities, while 25 communities have qualified for High Flyer status.


Read more:

Grants now available for Bird City communities.

View or download past issues of our monthly newsletter.