Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

The Challenge of Doing Good Avian Science in the Era of COVID-19


For those of us at the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, some of the fun may have to be put on pause, but the work definitely will go on. There is simply too much at stake for us not to push through these challenging days. 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. But we wanted to take just a moment to 1) share our concern for your health and well-being and urge each of you to follow the science and take the necessary steps for your personal health, and 2) let you know what we are doing to keep our staff, volunteers and attendees safe and to adjust our public activities to meet the latest state and federal health guidelines. That means canceling the following public events that the Observatory had planned for this spring: 

  • Bird hikes for “Love Our Great Lakes Day” on May 2 
  • “Gardening for Monarchs and Other Pollinators” on May 9 
  • Our annual World Migratory Bird Day celebration and native plant sale on May 17 
  • From Bogies to Birdies and Beyond” field trip on May 18 

Our science director, Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, and her new administrative assistant, Sarah Stoll, are working remotely from their homes and pushing forward to extend the system of Motus towers to monitor this spring’s migration (already under way!) and to continue planning for this fall’s Western Great Lakes Conservation Summit. The Observatory also remains involved with the Midwest Migration Network and the Great Lakes Wind Wildlife Coalition. Meanwhile, our waterbird counter, Calvin Brennan, maintains his solitary watch from where the beach used to be at Harrington (Beach) State Park. He already has reported some new rarities this spring, including a Slaty-backed Gull. 

The board and its committees are using online tools to meet and collaborate and plan a stepped-up effort to stay in touch with or friends and supporters via our web siteFacebook and Instagram. Look for news and activities you can use and hopefully even some FUN. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us at with questions, concerns, and well wishes. We’d be happy to hear from you. The American Bird Conservancy said it well in its message this week: “As we continue to adapt, some constants and familiar comforts are sure to lift our spirits. Birds are among these constants, and we hope you are getting a chance to enjoy some birding and bird song as they begin their northward movements and spring migration picks up.”