Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

See the new Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas webpage at: http://wsobirds.org/atlas

Join the Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project!

NHIP Vanishing Birds resized

Sign up at  and simply write “JOIN NHIP.” We’ll put you on the contact list, and

you can become part of the community conservation movement that will  

plant more native plants,  

improve habitat,

support birds and pollinators,

and grow engagement in citizen science.

By signing up, you will receive advanced notification of online programs, events, important resources, volunteer opportunities and locations for our native plant sales. 

Learn more HERE. 

United by Birds

Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory now has shirts! The shirts were designed by our Science Director to represent that we are united by birds, even in this socially-distanced world.  The design features the Great Lakes formed of silhouettes of our Great Lakes bird species, representing every family commonly seen in the region. If you look closely you may be able to see some of your favorite species, like a sandhill crane, a suite of warblers, a red-winged blackbird or a common loon.

Buying a shirt is a way you can support the Observatory, while showing your love for our Great Lakes and the birds that unite us. Most years we celebrate this capacity for birds to unite us at our annual World Migratory Bird Day. To meet health guidelines, we cancelled all of our spring events. This includes our combined World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale, which was expected to be our major spring fundraising event. Even though we can't be together in person, we still want to bring the message that we are united by birds to all of you.  

We like to think of our friends and supporters as “investors” in conservation science, and we are enormously grateful for the support our investors have shown for the Observatory's work.  Become an investor today by purchasing a shirt; all of the proceeds go to the Observatory’s work to conserve birds. With last year’s major study documenting the loss of 3 billion birds across North America in just the last 50 years, and the dwindling populations of once common Wisconsin birds, the work here that you have helped make possible is more critical than ever.   

Please visit our store on Bonfire

Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin Grant Awarded


The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory is pleased to announce that it has received a $10,000 grant from the Bird Protection Fund of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin in support of our newly launched Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project. 

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

An organization must be invited to apply for this grant and fulfill the following priorities:

  • Projects that directly address high priority conservation needs for Wisconsin’s birds.
  • Projects that align with state, regional, and national bird conservation plans and strategies.
  • Projects that leverage resources and partnerships.

We are deeply grateful for NRF’s confidence in the quality of our project and the opportunities it presents to collaborate with them for the protection of our birds. Learn more about the Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project HERE.

Non-Profits in the Pandemic

July 9, 2020 - Readers of many Wisconsin newspapers in the USA Today Network probably saw the same article that drew the attention of Observatory staff and board members. 

“Wisconsin nonprofits could be in dire financial straits in the months, and possibly years, ahead as they continue to cancel or scale back vital fundraising events due to the coronavirus pandemic. One in five nonprofits that responded to a University of Wisconsin System survey said they worry about meeting payroll for the next eight weeks. Almost 50% have laid off staff already, and 93% said they’re considering future layoffs.” 
The survey of more than 500 nonprofits statewide to assess COVID-19’s effect on Wisconsin nonprofits was led by UW-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management with the Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies at UW-Whitewater. 
“This survey tells people not to forget about this sector. The nonprofit sector helps our quality of life,” said co-author Lora Warner of the UW-Green Bay Center for Public Affairs. “Businesses will struggle and do the best they can. Governments will serve whom they can with fewer tax dollars, but nonprofits step in with shows, environmental protections, trail management and more. They’re doing so many things for our communities.”
According to Bob Holzrichter, the Observatory’s Treasurer, the economic effects of COVID-19 on our own situation have not been kind. “By March of this year,” he reports, “it became obvious to the board that our fund balances needed to be watched closely.” 
We have weathered the pandemic so far—thanks to the diligence, planning and ingenuity of our two staff members, the hard work of our volunteer directors and the continued financial backing of a growing group of supporters. There have been no layoffs, although the Observatory did suspend its seasonal Waterbird Watch at Harrington Beach State Park at the end of the spring survey. 
“We’ve been facing multiple challenges all at the same time,” says Board Chair Charles Hagner. “While we were retooling our research objectives under a new science director, we reached the expiration of a significant Fish and Wildlife Service grant connected with our leadership of the Midwest Migration Network and we were forced to cancel many of our spring educational events, which double as fundraisers.”
These included a World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale that draws hundreds to Forest Beach Migratory Preserve each May, as well as a field trip for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. More recently, the Observatory has had to cancel a planned pollinator tour and Monarch workshop at Coal Dock Park and our annual Monarch tag-and-release celebration.
To compensate, the Observatory is taking advantage of the social-media skills of recently hired administrative assistant Sarah Harsson Stoll to greatly expand our outreach via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Holzrichter points out an additional challenge: “After the Land Trust decided to close the clubhouse at Forest Beach, we were obligated to rent office space in Port Washington at a cost of $3,600 a year, but we haven’t been able to occupy it since early March.” Both Sarah and Science Director Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg are working from home. 
So the board tackled the things they could control on both the revenue and expense sides. Actions taken so far include:
1) Conducting our first spring giving appeal. The campaign has raised $11,521 so far (it’s not too late to contribute!) and is helping offset our lost events revenue. 
2) Offering for sale our own “United by Birds” shirts, which emphasize our work for birds of the Great Lakes. The shirts may generate only a modest amount of funds, but they’re causing a big increase in awareness of the Observatory. 
3) Securing a $16,000 Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan, with the anticipation that the entire balance will be forgiven under current Small Business Administration rules. This will, in turn, help offset the loss of federal grant support.
4) Taking several cost-saving measures. Since wages are by far our largest outlay, we reluctantly suspended our Waterbird Watch after avian technician Calvin Brennan (an independent contractor) announced plans to seek a similar position elsewhere, and we opted not to replace our part-time development specialist when she took a full-time position closer to her home. 
In addition, planning continues for an alternative to our annual fall conservation summit, which last year drew nearly 200 people to the clubhouse at Forest Beach and this year had been scheduled for the Pieper Power Education Center at the Mequon Nature Preserve. Some form of virtual meeting(s) seems in the cards instead, perhaps coupled with an online silent auction.
Meanwhile, the board and staff are reaching out to brief supporters on two key initiatives:
Motus: The Observatory is working to expand the Motus wildlife-monitoring network by partnering with environmental-education organizations to use Motus as part of environment, science, technology, engineering and math (E-STEM) programs. Environmental-ed organizations offer both knowledge of E-STEM and great locations for Motus towers, while we provide expertise in bird migration and the cutting-edge technology of Motus. Together we aim to gain both an increased understanding of migration and hands-on opportunities for students to engage in real science. 
Habitat: The use of nonnative and invasive species in urban and suburban areas is a major cause of habitat loss and degradation. The Observatory is developing a program to minimize the use of nonnative plant species in yards while studying the effects this shift to native plants would have on birds. Building on successful past outreach about monarchs and native plants and our experience with ornithological research, this program is a hybrid educational and biological research program. By doing these two things together, we can gain insights into how to maximize benefits for birds and help homeowners make bird-friendly decisions. 
Both programs will require dedicated grant funding and the continued support of Observatory donors. COVID or not, with your help this will be an exciting growth year for the Observatory. You can make a donation at https://wglbbo.org/donate .