For the birds in Wisconsin: fests, counts, city commitments

horicon copyYou could say Wisconsin is for the birds and be relatively accurate, for at least three reasons.

One-third of the state’s residents who are age 16 or older consider themselves birders. Only Vermont has a higher percentage, concludes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

No state presents more International Migratory Bird Day events than Wisconsin, says Sue Bonfield of Colorado, IMBD executive director.

Eight of Wisconsin’s 10 largest cities (Appleton and Waukesha are exceptions) earn Bird City Wisconsin status because of their commitment to bird conservation. In total, 81 of roughly 190 possible communities became a Bird City since the program began in 2010.

Participants must create and protect bird habitat, pursue effective forestry management (in urban and rural areas), limit or remove hazards to birds and raise public awareness of birds that are community assets.

Colorful signage – created by longtime artist Tom Uttech, a Wisconsin Academy fellow – identifies Bird City Wisconsin locations. Thirteen also are High Flyers because their work far exceeds minimum requirements; in the elite group are Brown County, Evansville, Green Bay, La Crosse, Manitowish Waters, Mequon, Muskego, Newburg, Oconto, Oshkosh, Ozaukee County, Stevens Point and Wausau.

“It’s our challenge to connect city residents with their urban wildlife,” says Carl Schwartz of Fox Point, Bird City Wisconsin coordinator. At least 400 bird species, most migratory, have been documented in the state.

Buckthorn removal, keeping housecats indoors, birding field trips, nesting box construction and partnerships with Tree City USA chapters (an Arbor Day Foundation project) are among the ways bird health is enhanced. For more about these and other efforts, consult

“We know it’s not just about the birds,” Carl says. “It’s about the habitat, too.” That’s why the annual Great Wisconsin Birdathon was established in 2012, to raise awareness and money for bird conservation projects. This year’s statewide fund-raising goal is $75,000.

Participants set aside a day in May to count bird species and collect pledge money for their efforts; sometimes pledges are based upon the number of species spotted.

Other activities include Birding Blitz field trips, particularly to acquaint newbies with birding. The $87 fee includes a $75 donation toward bird conservation. Download the 38-page schedule of outings at

Soon spring migration hits its peak, and that’s when bird festivals are most plentiful in Wisconsin. These include:

International Migratory Bird Day Festival, May 3, River Falls,, 715-425-2533

Oshkosh Bird Fest, May 3, Menominee Park,, 920-303-9200

Feather Fest, May 3-4, Mosquito Hill Nature Center, New London,, 920-832-4790

Horicon Marsh Bird Festival, May 9-12, several locations,, 920-485-4663

Spring’s Wings Bird Festival, May 10, Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay,, 920-39-3671

International Migratory Bird Day Celebration, May 25, Harbor View Park, Egg Harbor,, 920-868-3717

The Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail was introduced in 2004 and now encompasses five regions – Lake Michigan, Mississippi/Chippewa Rivers, Lake Superior Northwoods, Southern Savanna and Central Sands. Find maps and details online at, or call 608-267-2108 to order the paper booklets.

Inside Wyalusing State Park, Grant County, is a monument to the extinct passenger pigeon, erected in 1947 by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

The world’s last known passenger pigeon died in captivity at Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago. The bird’s elimination is remarkable because the species used to be the most common bird on the continent, flying in flocks of thousands at a time.

At the end of the 18th century, one in four birds was a passenger pigeon, says the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Stanley Temple, a senior fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Wisconsin was a prime nesting spot for the game bird, and the professor emeritus says the largest recorded nesting was near Wisconsin Dells in 1871. That also is where one of the largest slaughters occurred.

A “commercial pillage of what seemed to be an inexhaustible supply” of the game birds happened from 1860-1900, Stanley says. “You didn’t even have to aim” because flocks were so large, but the hunting also brought the bird’s reproduction to a halt.

The Wyalusing monument will be rededicated May 17 during the ornithology group’s 75th anniversary convention in Prairie du Chien., 608-326-4941

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, presents passenger pigeon art, programs and events during this fall’s annual “Birds in Art” exhibition, which opens Sept. 13. Artwork will include “Lost Bird Project” maquettes by sculptor Todd McGrain, historic and contemporary artists’ paintings, drawings and sculpture depicting extinct and endangered birds.

Joel Greenberg, author of the 2014 book “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction,” presents programs at the museum Oct. 18-19, during the statewide Wisconsin Science Festival., 715-845-7010

For more about the passenger pigeon’s history and demise, check out the centennial Passenger Pigeon Project at