Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Director Updates

Science Committee at Work

Dr. Jennifer Phillips VanderbergScience Director, Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg

It takes a village to do the planning that’s involved in steering the Observatory. Because the primary mission of the Observatory is a scientific one (“to advance knowledge of bird and bat populations and their conservation in Wisconsin and throughout the Western Great Lakes Region through coordinated research, monitoring, and education using good science”), the work of the Science Committee is vital. In the words of its chair, Sue Schumacher: 
“What does the Science Committee do? We support the work headed by our Director Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg. How we do that is the fun and exciting part of volunteering. Members of the committee have varied backgrounds in the science field and bring a variety of information to the group. We assist her with developing scientific research projects and environmental tasks for the Observatory to carry out, such as the Waterbird Watch and the American Kestrel nest box cooperators network. This can involve looking for and writing requests for grant monies. Committee members may volunteer to carry out portions of the field work, analysis of data, or writing up results. Studies can provide valuable data about the ecosystem and species in the Forest Beach area and beyond; a number of these studies have been published in science journals. We’re currently working on installing Motus wildlife-tracking towers and looking to develop research studies involving the tracking of birds in the region.
One item the committee is working on now is preparations for the 2020 Western Great Lakes Conservation Summit (formerly called the Southeastern Wisconsin Conservation Summit), which will be held on Oct 30-31 at the Mequon Nature Preserve. We updated the name to be more inclusive of the unique ecology along the Western Great Lakes. Committee members are planning email “save the dates” and invitations to speakers, as well as outreach to students to encourage their attendance. Keep your eyes open for future info on this event -- we plan to have some exceptional presenters again this year!

Birds in Peril Resources

By Retired Director William Mueller

Birds face many threats today, and those threats could be magnified by recent attempts to weaken their protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. This blog post by former Observatory Director Bill Mueller spells out the issues. 

Threats to birds: learn about them Birds face many threats to their health, well-being, and survival. Some already exist in nature and are not caused or controlled by humans. (Storms, disease, parasites, and predation are major sources of mortality and injury.) But human activity in the modern world has increased the number, severity, and complexity of anthropogenic, or human-caused, threats -- not only to individual birds, but also to populations, regional or local sub-populations, or entire species or subspecies at differing geographic scales.

Here are some important sources of mortality, displacement, and injury to birds:

Habitat loss
Read about habitat loss at these links from the American Bird Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

Habitat alteration or fragmentation
Loss of habitat also has negative effects on birds. Read a paper linked here:

Effects of feral or free-ranging cats on birds
The enormous effect of cats on wild birds and other wildlife species cannot be overstated. An issues paper on this topic prepared by the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership can be found here:
http://www.wisconsinbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/catsbirds-1.pdfThis valuable paper about free-ranging domestic cats, published in the journal Nature, has also been highly read:

Effects of pesticides or other chemicals
This issues paper from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership contains excellent sources of information about pesticides:

Threats specific to migration
Birds face specific threats during migration.  It may be the time of highest mortality in the annual cycle for those species that move distances between breeding and winter ranges. Read more here:

Lead poisoning
Lead affects birds in multiple ways. Birds can pick up lead fragments or lead shot, or lead fishing tackle, and then be poisoned by those fragments or other lead items. Here are several informative links:

Effects of climate change
The effects of climate change on birds are complex and far-reaching, extending into multiple aspects of birds' life cycles. Read more at these two links:

Window and glass collisions
Many millions of birds are killed by collisions with glass; much of this is avoidable. Learn more at these links:

Collisions with communication towers and/or wind turbines
Here's a paper on the effects of collisions with communications towers:
https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/threats-to-birds/collisions/communication-towers.phpHere is an issues paper from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership on birds and wind power:
Here is a very new paper on this and related topics:


Director’s Report – July 2018

W. Mueller

Motus – meetings and coordination continue throughout the summer.

I’ve had meetings with representatives from our multiple partner organizations and individuals who intend to fund – or host – a Motus station, with more forthcoming.

Additional news to come in August and September.

WBBAII Breeding Bird Atlas

I have completed 90% of my teaching/coordination of training for the Atlas for 2018, and a  CBM grant is coming our way to pay for my time on that project.

Our Urban Birds Grant from USFWS involves a series of workshops with our partners at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center

“From Flowers to Feathers”

We did a workshop about incorporating native plants into urban yards, basic principles of design, and how native plants help many wildlife species, especially birds.

This included presentations from Urban Ecology Center(UEC) and Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory (WGLBBO) staff, sharing their bird-focused experience and expertise. Native plants were once again on sale, so people could be enticed to start creating habitat in their yard right away. A portion of proceeds from the sale benefited the UEC.  

From Flowers to Feathers: Workshops & Native Plant Sale

Saturday, June 23 

Another follow-up workshop at UEC will take place in early autumn. 

Chimney Swift- Common Nighthawk Project

As another part of our Urban Birds grant, we now have 17 cooperators running monitoring routes in Milwaukee County. This is a time-demanding project for this year.  Cooperators do a route once each week, with six stops, at each of which they do a point count for Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks.  Interim results will be presented at the Fall WBCI/BCW Conference.

WBCI/BCW Annual Conference

Continuing in this ‘aerial insectivore’ vein, you hopefully all saw a notice for the September Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative/Bird City Wisconsin Conference in our newsletter. I have been part of a four-person planning team organizing the speakers, getting their topics coordinated, and developing the agenda and schedule, and the registration set-up. This year’s theme is the decline of aerial insectivores, which include all six species of swallows found in Wisconsin, both nightjars, Chimney Swift, and a group of forest fly catchers.

Please consider attending this important conference. Aerial insectivores comprise a group of valuable, much-beloved species which are all in serious decline.

To see the entire schedule, refer to our newsletter, or the latest Badger Birder, or go to this link:


Registration is at: http://www.wisconsinbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Registration-form_final_2018.pdf

American Kestrel Partnership

Mike has been coordinating data management with our statewide partners. He also collects data from several of our own boxes, and we are working toward the development of partnerships with additional nature centers, County governments, and individuals. We are progressing toward cooperation with three types of partners:

  • Some collect and enter their own data into the AKP system
  • Some need our help with parts of the implementation of the monitoring process and data entry.
  • Some have kestrel nestboxes in place, or wish to do so, but are at an “entry-level” point in the process, and need our assistance with beginning steps.

Midwest Migration Network

Our work on our MMN grant this year is multi-parted. It involves developing subcontracts with Point Blue Conservation Science, and Mark Shieldcastle. Point Blue will work on a complicated data interface between the Midwest Avian Data Center, and the Bird Banding Lab. Mark Shieldcastle will lead a series of workshops across the eight states of the Midwest Region to implement a new set of protocols for banding stations and the way they record and archive data. We submitted a grant modification to our existing grant in May; it is in the USFWS grant “pipeline,” and will take some time to work through their process.

My Midwest Aerial Insectivore Discussion Group continues to grow.  The number of members  has increased consistently this year, and the Discussion Group now has 122 members. See it, or join at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1581381955435390/

Arial Insect Facebook