Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

2019 Birdathon Raises Over $85,000 for Bird Conservation

Great Wisconsin Birdathon

The 2019 Great Wisconsin Birdathon is a wrap, and thanks to 24 teams, 27 field trips and winter tours, and 660 donors, it was a big success. According to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the event raised $85,652 for bird conservation.

The annual birdathon is the primary source of support for the Bird Protection Fund, which provides critical support to projects that advance conservation across Wisconsin, focusing on species that are most imperiled. In 2019, it funded Kirtland's Warbler research, Piping Plover monitoring, and five other priority conservation projects, including Bird City Wisconsin.

The Bird Protection Fund is a collaboration of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It has raised more than $1 million for bird conservation and research since 2007.

Signature teams and field trips and tours brought in the lion's share of funds raised during this year's birdathon. The signature teams raised over $40,000, while field trips and winter tours yielded $20,300.

Of the signature teams, Cutright's Old Coots -- landscape artist Tom Uttech, Marilyn Bontly, Joan Sommer, Mike Wanger, Ric Zarwell, and Carl Schwartz, past chair of the Bird City Wisconsin steering committee -- raised the most: $13,276.80.

"Cutright’s Old Coots are six people who strongly believe that birds are valuable and need our help -- now more than ever," says Schwartz. "That’s why every year since 2012 we have enlisted as many friends, family, and colleagues as possible to support a team for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon."

In addition to raising the most money, Cutright's Old Coots came close to taking honors for the most birds recorded during the birdathon, observing no fewer than 168 species on a big day held on May 16.

The top birding team was the Secretary Birds (Tom Prestby, Mark Korducki, Quentin Yoerger, and Aaron Haycraft), who recorded a remarkable 193 species while birding from Door County to Horicon Marsh on May 21, including Northern Saw-whet Owl near Duvall Swamp, Eastern Whip-poor-will near Bailey's Harbor, and both Hooded and Blue-winged Warblers in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

The Muirland Merlins (Daryl Christenson, Steve Mullen, and Kari and Mark Stauffer) found the second most species, an impressive 175 species, on May 11 at Comstock Bog, Germania Marsh, the Buena Vista-Leola Marsh complex, Middleton's Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Horicon Marsh, and other east-central hotspots.

Eighteen organizations fielded Birdathon teams, including the Madison Audubon Society, Madison Friends of Urban Nature, North Lakeland Discovery Center, Mequon Nature Preserve, Tropical Wings, Baraboo Ranger Preservation Association, and the Wausau, Muirland, Ben Goss, Northeast Wisconsin, and Noel J. Cutright Bird Clubs.

The organizational teams raised $16,400, half of which will be returned to them to fund their own projects, including land protection and stewardship, education, outreach, and more. Their success suggests that the birdathon would be a fun and effective way for Bird Cities to raise money for conservation efforts in their communities.

The next Great Wisconsin Birdathon will be in April 2020.


Results and stories from the 2019 Great Wisconsin Birdathon.

Read the Secretary Birds' big day report.

Read Cutright's Old Coots' big day report.

Read about the Muirland Merlins.

See the Bird Protection Fund's 2019 priority projects.


Updated Aug. 10, 2019, to include updated fundraising and Big Day results. 


Milwaukee County Parks designated an Important Bird Area

Milwaukee County Parks Important Bird Area

Milwaukee County, the only Bird City community to have earned credit for documenting that a municipal or major public building had been awarded LEED certification as bird-friendly, has another feather for its cap: The county's treasured 15,000-acre park system has been designated Wisconsin's 93rd Important Bird Area (IBA).

Milwaukee County, a High Flyer, had earlier satisfied Criterion D in Category 3 (Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds) by documenting that Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team, had been awarded LEED certification as bird-friendly. The world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment arena, the arena not only achieved LEED Silver certification but also satisfied the U.S. Green Building Council's Bird Collision Deterrence credit (SSpc55). Fiserv Forum opened in August 2018.

See the complete list of Bird City's recognition criteria.

Officials from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI), a collaboration of more than 180 groups working to conserve native birds in Wisconsin, conferred the IBA designation in a ceremony at Lake Park in Milwaukee on July 25, 2019.

"The value of these 15,000 acres to migrating birds is immense," says Karen Etter Hale, WBCI chair and community relations director for the Wisconsin Audubon Council. "Seventy-five percent of the remaining green space in Milwaukee is found within Milwaukee County Parks."

Fifty-seven bird species listed in Wisconsin DNR's Wildlife Action Plan as Species of Greatest Conservation Need because of low or declining populations have been found using the natural areas within the Milwaukee County Park System. Other factors helping land the IBA designation, says Etter Hale, were the park system's active natural areas management program; its "rigorous, long-term bird-monitoring program; and its engaging accessible bird education programs," which reach up to 4,000 people each year.

Brian Russart, coordinator of the Milwaukee County Parks System's Natural Areas Program, said the designation is significant for the parks system and, beyond that, for urban natural areas across Wisconsin. "We are certainly honored to be designated an Important Bird Area. Too often urban natural areas are not perceived as being essential for wildlife conservation; however, if they are protected and properly managed these urban natural areas can maintain surprisingly diverse bird populations.

"The Milwaukee County Park System's location within a major bird-migration corridor allows us to play a small yet important role in the larger international bird-conservation efforts, and Parks takes that stewardship responsibility very seriously."

With the designation, the park system joins 92 IBAs in Wisconsin, 2,832 in the United States, and 12,000 worldwide. The IBA program was launched by Birdlife International in 1985 to identify, protect, and monitor sites essential to the conservation of bird populations globally. IBA designation is voluntary and conveys no legal status or regulatory requirements but highlights the importance of the Milwaukee County Parks System for bird conservation.

Read Milwaukee County's achievements as a Bird City.

Read about Fiserv Forum.

See the complete list of Bird City's recognition criteria.


Village of Waunakee becomes 110th Bird City

Waunakee Bird City Wisconsin

The Village of Waunakee has become a Bird City.

At a meeting of the Village Board on July 15, 2019, Charles Hagner, director of Bird City Wisconsin, commended the Village for steps it had taken to make the community healthier for birds and for people. He cited the following:

  • The natural prairie at the Bolz Conservancy Park, which is now maintained by many volunteers as well as the Village Center and Public Works Department
  • The Village’s protected natural areas, including an area within Ripp Park that was recently restored into a two-acre prairie
  • The planting of up to 75 trees each year in public parks and around Village facilities
  • The creation of 67 miles of paths that reduce motor-vehicle dependency
  • The control and removal of invasive species in public areas

“Actions like these benefit birds and other wildlife,” Hagner told the Board of Trustees, “and help build a connection to nature that will show current and future decision makers just how important it is to protect the natural world.”

Hagner presented two street signs and a 3'x5' flag bearing the Bird City logo, a framed, signed commemorative plaque, and a copy of Owen Gromme’s classic book Birds of Wisconsin to Chris Zellner Village President, and Jeffrey Karls and William Frederick of the Village’s Public Works Department, pictured above.

Bird City Wisconsin was founded in 2009. Modeled on the successful Tree City USA program of the Arbor Day Foundation, it encourages Wisconsin communities to implement sound bird-conservation practices by rewarding those that both enhance the environment for birds and educate their citizens about the interactions between birds and people and about the contributions that birds make to healthy communities.

The Village of Waunakee became the 110th Bird City that the program has recognized to date. A complete list of all 110 Bird Cities, along with the narrative that each community submitted to describe its bird-friendly accomplishments, can be found on the program’s website.

Bird City Wisconsin is a program of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Port Washington.

It is supported by a grant from the Bird Protection Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, application and renewal fees, and generous donors. Seed funding and follow-up support for Bird City Wisconsin was provided by the National Audubon Society and Toyota through a TogetherGreen Innovation Grant.

See a list of all Bird Cities.

Read what the Village of Waunakee did to earn recognition as a Bird City.


Birdathon donors spurred bird-friendly Bucks arena

Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee

Donors to the Great Wisconsin Birdathon have helped make important gains for Wisconsin birds in recent years. Chief among them is funding Bird City Wisconsin, the organization that spurred the Milwaukee Bucks to make their arena the first bird-friendly sports and entertainment arena in the world.

Bird City Wisconsin works to encourage communities throughout the state to implement bird-conservation practices. In 2015, it successfully approached the Bucks about incorporating bird-friendly measures in the design of their new arena. 

As a result, Fiserv Forum, located in downtown Milwaukee near the shore of Lake Michigan, earned the Bird Collision Deterrence Credit from the U.S. Green Building Council as part of its LEED Green Building Certification. The credit reflected the stadium's minimal use of see-through glass and reduced use of lighting that can disorient migrating birds. Scientists estimate that upwards of 600 million birds die from building collisions in the U.S. and Canada every year.

Other important projects that will be funded by donations to the 2019 Great Wisconsin Birdathon include the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, a comprehensive field survey that documents the distribution and abundance of birds breeding in Wisconsin; waterbird monitoring by the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory; work to re-establish an eastern migratory flock of Whooping Cranes; and efforts to increase the number of endangered Kirtland's Warblers.

New this year, funds raised through the Great Wisconsin Birdathon will also benefit endangered Piping Plovers by supporting work aimed at protecting and restoring breeding and nesting sites and creating additional breeding sites.

The Birdathon is organized and run by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Participants identify and record as many bird species as possible during part of a day between April 15 and June 15 and solicit pledges from family and friends. There is also a general fund to donate to if donors do not have a favorite team or birder registered.

Last year's Birdathon raised $88,000 for bird-conservation projects. This year's goal is $90,000.

Bird City helps Bucks open the world’s first bird-friendly arena.

Birdathon helps push Bird Protection Fund past $1 million mark.


Birdathon helps push Bird Protection Fund past $1 million mark

Great Wisconsin Birdathon

The Bird Protection Fund -- a collaboration of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources -- has raised and distributed $1,014,566 for bird conservation since it was created in 2009.

The Bird Protection Fund supports Wisconsin’s birds throughout their lifecycle -- from their breeding grounds in Wisconsin to their migratory habitat in Central and South America. Each year, the Bird Protection Fund partner organizations get together to review bird-conservation priorities in Wisconsin, identify areas of greatest need, and allocate funding to projects that address those needs.

“Given the increasing demand for bird-conservation funds for a growing number of projects, NRF’s Bird Protection Fund plays a special and novel role to address a rich variety of bird-conservation needs,” said Sumner Matteson, a conservation biologist with Wisconsin DNR. By bringing together public and private entities to coordinate and work together toward a common goal, Matteson sees the Bird Protection Fund as “uniquely positioned to help maintain Wisconsin’s storied bird conservation legacy.”

This million-dollar mark was made possible thanks to a truly Wisconsin-wide effort. The primary source of donations for the Bird Protection Fund comes from the annual Great Wisconsin Birdathon -- a walk-a-thon-style fundraiser in which participants raise money and venture out to log as many birds as they can see in one day.

“Wisconsin people care about birds,” said Karen Etter Hale, chair of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative and director of community relations for the Wisconsin Audubon Council. “We really appreciate every donor and Birdathon participant who has made this million dollars possible.”

In 2018, Birdathon teams throughout the state ranged from a kindergarten class in Sussex to millennials in Madison and professional birders in Lake Superior. Teams birded by kayak, bike, and by foot; from front porches, out windows, and at ice cream shops.

Read the 2018 Great Wisconsin Birdathon report.

The common thread running through every team, whether they were out for 16 hours or just one, has been the excitement and wonder that come from devoting one’s attention to nature -- watching closely and uncovering glimpses of a world we too often take for granted. This reprieve into nature can feel like a break from “real life.” “I’ve been looking forward to next year’s Birdathon for three months already,” commented Tom Pearce of the Millennial Falcons in Madison. “It’s my favorite holiday.”

In 2018, the Bird Protection Fund is granting a total of $62,000 to the following:

The Great Wisconsin Birdathon began in 2012 and since then has raised more than $400,000 for bird protection in Wisconsin. The funds are collected and managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin through the Bird Protection Fund.

Learn about the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.

Read more about the Bird Protection Fund.