In June 2021, Bird City Wisconsin awarded small grants to six Bird City communities: Kenosha County, Manitowish Waters, Mequon, New London, Whitewater, and Wisconsin Rapids.
In this issue, we tell what the City of New London, a Bird City since 2010 and a High Flyer, accomplished with its 2021 grant.
According to Ginger Arndt, director of New London’s Parks and Recreation Department, the city worked with the New London Public Museum, the Wolf River Art League, and Mosquito Hill Nature Center to create a colorful and fun educational project.
Volunteer artists created 42 cutouts of the swallows featured in the Bird City Wisconsin logo and placed them in the New London parks and along trails at the Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
“Little pop-ups of color showed up in city parks and Mosquito Hill, and people were curious,” Arndt says. “Each bird had a QR code that correlated with a webpage that connected participants with a unique and oftentimes rare bird that is or was once found in our region.”
Arndt reports that participants could also pick up a card containing questions about the birds featured on the cutouts. After finding the cutouts, scanning the codes, and answering the questions on the card, participants could deliver it to the Parks and Recreation Department for a prize.
“The individuals that participated in the program ranged from families that were able to get together with grandma during the search to old friends that connected and hunted out these elusive beautiful pieces of art,” Arndt says.
The winner of the bird search won a variety of supplies to make a backyard “bird paradise,” complete with feeders, feed, and a bath.
Arndt said the department received an outpouring of positive comments from New Londoners who saw the cutouts and contacted our office to say how beautiful and creative they were. “Those that participated in the scavenger hunt commended the department on this new and enriching program,” Arndt writes. “We will continue to do this for years to come!”
This was the second year that Bird City Wisconsin, a program of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Port Washington, awarded small grants, which are available to Bird City communities only.
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.
Bird City Wisconsin has always worked hard to keep the program’s fees as low as possible, something we have been able to accomplish thanks to additional outside support. Unfortunately, we have to admit that our financial model is no longer working. Indeed, we find ourselves in a position where we cannot continue on at the $125 level. As a result, we are immediately raising application and renewal fees for only the second time in the program’s 12-year history. All new applications and renewals, which are due January 31, 2022, are now $175.
We are facing the most difficult financial period in our history. For much of the program’s life, we received generous annual support from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Bird Protection Fund, and we remain truly grateful for our good relationship with NRF and all that it has helped us accomplish. However, we are no longer receiving those funds, and, quite frankly, we’ve struggled to replace them.
We put the funds generated by new applications, renewals, and fundraising primarily toward the salary of our part-time director, who manages the application and renewal processes and handles all communications with Bird Cities and the public, including our newsletter and social media presence. (If you don’t follow us on Facebook and Twitter, please do!) The funds also cover expenses for our website; keep our street signs, mini-signs, and flags in stock; and pay for postage, office supplies, and our mailbox.
Over the past two years, Bird City Wisconsin has also spent some of its money providing small grants designed to help Bird Cities create and preserve bird habitat, address threats to birds, and educate residents about birds. To date, these funds have come from our general operating funds. We are working to find a sponsor for our small grants, so that we can continue this worthwhile and popular program in 2022. The fee increase greatly increases the likelihood that we will again be able to offer small grants next year.
Raising fees will also help us continue to help make Wisconsin communities healthy for both birds and people. As I write this, Bird City Wisconsin has 97 active Bird Cities that complete over 1,000 conservation and education actions each year.
You should feel tremendous pride in all that you have accomplished over the past 12 years, and I hope you are as excited as I am for what Bird City communities will accomplish in the future. As someone who has been closely involved with the program since 2014, I can say that I am proud of the difference that our communities are making.
I am also proud that others have noted our communities’ successes. Not only is Bird City Wisconsin fulfilling its founders’ ambitions through its success in Wisconsin, but we’re also working to realize the founders’ desire to see the program spread beyond Wisconsin.
Right now, though, what Bird City Wisconsin needs to do is to refine the model that has made it so successful, so that it includes a more secure financial footing. The fee increase will make a significant difference for our solvency, but the revenue generated will not support the program for a full year. To do that, we will have to continue to keep our costs as low as possible while seeking additional funding sources, including gifts from conservation-minded donors. If you are in the position to help us by making a tax-deductible donation, please visit our donate page today or send a check to this address:
Bird City Wisconsin
4230 N. Oakland Ave., No. 219
Shorewood, WI 53211
As we approach the end of the year, if you are considering a donation and you have a required minimum distribution from your retirement account, please keep in mind that this money would make an immediate, much-appreciated difference for Bird City Wisconsin while potentially offering you a significant tax benefit.
I speak for the director and Board of Directors when I thank you for understanding the reasoning behind the fee increase. And I thank you even more strongly for all that you do to build stronger communities and a stronger Wisconsin.
-- Bryan Lenz, Ph.D., Chair
Even some representatives of the 15 inaugural communities recognized by Bird City Wisconsin in 2010 may not know the whole history of the organization they helped to launch more than a decade ago. So now, nearly 100 communities later, we are looking back and recalling just how this impactful organization got its start.
The idea for Bird City USA/Bird City Wisconsin originated at the third meeting of the Urban Habitat Subcommittee of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative on March 29, 2003. Several attendees could have initiated the idea. (Ron Windingstad, Bill Mueller, Sue Foot-Martin, and Karen Etter Hale are the likely suspects.) Ricky Lien, of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), chaired the subcommittee, which talked about partnering and criteria.
The idea was discussed further on Oct. 27, 2003, gaining input from Kim Sebastian, DNR Urban Forester and coordinator of Tree City USA in southeastern Wisconsin. Mueller provided “Some Criteria for Local Government Inclusion in a ‘Bird City Wisconsin’ Program.” The group talked about criteria and the need to keep administration of the program simple. Ornithologist Noel Cutright wondered if it wouldn’t be better to title the program “Bird Friendly City.” The group refined criteria for recognition at subsequent meetings and initiated contacts with several supportive organizations, while Lien developed a draft budget.
The National Audubon Society (NAS) was interested enough in the idea that in 2004 they paid to fly Lien and Etter Hale to make a half-day presentation at their science office in Pennsylvania. They were very enthused but had reservations. A status report at an Aug. 24, 2004, WBCI meeting noted that NAS says we should feel free to pursue other outlets. About the same time, the idea’s originators met with the DNR, which also was very enthused but decided not to pursue it. In short, everyone loved the idea, but no one had any money to take it on.
The idea moved to the back burner until September 2009, when the Milwaukee Audubon Society partnered with seven other Wisconsin conservation organizations to found Bird City Wisconsin. The program launched in 2009 with an $8,000 planning grant from Together Green, an alliance between NAS and Toyota. Together Green increased its support in 2010 and 2011 to $31,700 to begin the community-recognition process and create a website.
Additional initial financing came from Milwaukee Audubon ($5,000 in 2010) and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, which donated $10,000 from its Bird Protection Fund in 2012 (and continued to provide vital annual support for the program through 2019).
In October 2009, Bird City Wisconsin hired its first director, Carl Schwartz, who debuted the program and its recognition process at Milwaukee Audubon’s annual Natural Landscapes Conference in February 2010, and 15 inaugural communities were recognized in December of that year.
To grow the fledgling program’s reputation, Bird City relied on a heavy agenda of more than 100 public appearances from 2010 to 2012. Schwartz gave talks to Audubon chapters, bird clubs and natural landscaping groups and made presentations at statewide meetings of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Wildlife Society, Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, Prairie Enthusiasts, and Wisconsin Lakes Association.
A number of other Bird City spinoff programs have launched with varying degrees of help from Bird City Wisconsin. These programs also have varying degrees of similarity to Bird City Wisconsin: Bird City Colorado, Bird Friendly Iowa, Bird City Maryland, Bird City Minnesota, Bird City Texas, Bird Town Indiana, and Bird Town Pennsylvania.
In October 2018, the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory assumed fiscal sponsorship of Bird City Wisconsin, taking over from Milwaukee Audubon, which had served as fiscal sponsor of the program since 2009. Bird City Wisconsin moved into new offices in Shorewood at the same time, vacating a space at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside.
Also in 2018, American Bird Conservancy and Environment for the Americas (sponsor of World Migratory Bird Day) began working to take the Bird City idea to the Western Hemisphere, creating Bird City Americas, which launched in 2021.
Here are some of the folks who have been involved in the statewide organization since its beginning:
Bird City Wisconsin was led by a steering committee from 2009 to 2018, when it reorganized as a board of directors.
Past Board Members
Thanks to the hundreds of Bird City Wisconsin street signs hanging around the state, one of the most recognizable things about the program is its logo, and for that, Bird City Wisconsin is deeply indebted to Tom Uttech and Mary Uttech. Tom is one of the most widely admired landscape painters in America. The logo started with Tom’s watercolors and was crafted by Mary, a magazine designer, into a striking logo that masterfully captures the urban habitat that Bird City Wisconsin was founded to protect and improve. The Uttechs live near Saukville and are active members of the state’s birding and conservation community.
Why care about Chimney Swifts?
Chimney Swifts have declined significantly in recent decades and need our assistance more than ever. In 2009, our northern neighbor, Canada, listed them as Threatened. Why?
Resources for chimney sweeps and masons
The Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group is partnering with chimney sweeps and masons whose customers are in Wisconsin.
The goal of the partnership is to identify chimneys currently in use by swifts and to enlighten customers on how to maintain the structures to benefit the species. Chimney sweeps and masons are on the front lines of identifying occupied chimneys and interacting with homeowners.
Awareness of Chimney Swifts and the chimneys they use is key to protecting the species. In pre-colonial times, swifts nested and roosted in large hollow trees. Later, as land was cleared for settlement and agriculture, most of these old trees were cut down, and swifts adapted to using chimneys. Now the Chimney Swift depends almost entirely on masonry chimneys for nesting and roosting habitat.
Swifts nest one pair to a chimney, and a pair nests in the same chimney each year. New construction design typically does not include chimneys suitable for swifts, and existing chimneys are being capped, reducing nesting habitat.
Free educational materials are provided to chimney sweeps and masons who are interested in working with the working group. In addition, working group members are available to help businesses and their customers concerning questions or issues that may arise.
Chimney sweeps and masons:
Brookfield: Contractor-X Masonry Division, (414) 519-1900
Cedarburg: Chimney Concepts, (262) 377-5811
Cambridge: Cam Rock Masonry LLC, (608) 444-6995
Chippewa: Falls B & M Masonry and Repair, (715) 210-0827
Columbus: Daizy Sweeps, Inc., (920) 386-9563
Eleva: Soot Loose Chimney Sweep, (715) 878-4706
Madison: Badger Chimney, (608) 244-6639
Menasha: The Chimney Guy LLC, (920) 830-1920
Menomonie: Sax Chimney Sweep Service, (715) 235-6044
Milwaukee: All for One Chimney, (414) 600-3845; Carlson’s Chimney, (414) 774-6955; Chimney Doctors, (262) 784-8000
Neenah: Advanced Chimney Specialists LLC, (920) 727-9166
Oconomowoc: Rock River Chimney and Foundation LLC, (262) 354-5090
Oostburg: Eernisse Chimney Repair and Tuck Pointing, (920) 564-6186
Racine: Midwest Chimney Service, (262) 770-5492
Reedsburg: Kosak Chimney and Stove Service, (608) 768-1776 or (715) 693-6564
Schofield: Schofield Foundation and Chimney Restoration, (715) 571-5613
Spring Valley: Tim’s Top Hat Chimney Sweep and Service, (800) 854-1788
West Bend: LifeTime Chimneys, (262) 377-4066
Chimney swifts are disappearing in Wisconsin; fixing up your home is one way to help (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 14, 2020)
By Cathy Pabich, Bird City Algoma Committee
I want to share some happy news from the Algoma Bird City Committee.
Local artist and children’s book author J. T. Toonen (Janet Tlachac-Toonen) authored her most recent book Birds Are Everywhere! specially to help us celebrate World Migratory Bird Day in Algoma. Although COVID-19 caused us to cancel the all-day event we usually offer, we are celebrating in other ways throughout September.
We started with a book signing. Bird City Algoma had a display table at the event. We feel uniquely honored by Janet’s generosity, since she also contributed a portion of her book sales to our committee. She is a longtime supporter who has participated in our celebrations annually.
Bird City Wisconsin communities celebrate the fact that you will find birds whether you live in a big city, a small town, or the country. The variety may vary and, in most cases, will change throughout the year. Birds Are Everywhere! shows kids some of the places birds can be found and what they like to eat.
Because birds can be found everywhere, kids everywhere can make a difference by feeding them. The book is a great rhyming story for ages three to eight and also serves as a mini field guide with photos of birds by local wildlife photographers.