December 2, 2010. Carl Schwartz, founding director of Bird City Wisconsin, presents recognition award to Andrew Halverson, then mayor of Stevens Point, one of the state’s initial 10 Bird City Wisconsin communities.

Bird City Wisconsin has blown past the century mark in its recognition of communities that have taken the initiative to do more to be a healthy place for both birds and people. After  celebrating recognition of our milestone 100th (Sturgeon Bay) and 101st (Osceola) communities, Bird City has gone on to recognize six additional communities -- Shawano, Alma, Appleton, Monona, Rice Lake and South Milwaukee.

And now it has another exciting development to report: an updated set of criteria for becoming a Bird City.

Bird City recently made the first-ever change to the criteria it has established for recognizing communities that undertake conservation and education activities to make their communities healthy for birds… and people. Previously, communities could be recognized as Bird Cities by meeting 7 of 22 criteria from five categories (habitat creation and protection, community forest management, limiting threats to birds, education, and the official recognition and celebration of International Migratory Bird Day). To be considered an elite High Flyer, a community had to meet the Basic requirements plus at least 5 of 17 more rigorous criteria split into the same categories.

Bird City Wisconsin’s new criteria can be found online.

The changes in the criteria and in the application itself are designed to nudge Bird City communities to build upon the wonderful things they currently are doing to be recognized as Bird Cities. To maintain consistency in the program, all of the criteria that were in the old application are still in the new application (with some wording changes for clarification). To these were added an entirely new category, Energy & Sustainability, to help address climate change and urban pollution, a point system to emphasize the more-involved criteria, numerous new criteria, a single application rather than separate Basic and High Flyer applications, and a slight increase in the number of criteria required to become both a Bird City and a High Flyer.

The revised application also features a new restriction on High Flyer status that prohibits High Flyer recognition for communities that officially support outdoor cats. This is a huge issue as cats spread serious diseases to humans and wildlife (e.g., Toxoplasma gondii), cats that spend at least part of their lives outside do not live as long and are not as healthy as indoor cats, and research has shown that cats in the United States kill 2.4 billion birds and 12 billion mammals… EVERY. YEAR.

Bird City Wisconsin is modeled on the Arbor Day Foundation’s successful national program Tree City USA and seeks to promote civic management and public engagement to create healthy bird and human populations. The participants that have come together to seek recognition for their communities include public officials, bird watchers, conservationists, local businesses and chambers of commerce.

Bird City is supported by grants from the Arthur J. Donald Family Foundation, the Bird Protection Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF), the WE Energies Foundation and the Wisconsin Audubon Council; individual donations; and application and renewal fees. It also receives significant in-kind support from the Milwaukee Audubon Society. Seed funding and follow-up support for Bird City was provided by the National Audubon Society and Toyota through a TogetherGreen Innovation Grant.

Bird City Wisconsin strongly promotes participation in a number of statewide birding activities, including the NRF’s Great Wisconsin Birdathon, the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, International Migratory Bird Day, the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count. It has helped launch similar programs in Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa and Texas, and offers to work with organizations in other states interested in such an effort.

Bird City has three annual application deadlines: March 1, July 1 and Nov. 1. Renewals are due each Jan. 31. Bird City Wisconsin communities receive street signs and a flag to trumpet their achievements, along with a plaque and a copy of Owen Gromme’s book “Birds of Wisconsin.”

Reliving our history: On Dec. 2, 2010, Carl Schwartz, founding director of Bird City Wisconsin, presented recognition to Andrew Halverson, then mayor of Stevens Point, one of the state’s initial 10 Bird City Wisconsin communities.