Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Pillar Projects

Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project - Year 1

NHIP Vanishing Birds resizedNearly 3 billion fewer birds exist in North America today than in 1970.
That means one in four birds have vanished in the last half century.
Many of these are the common species we are likely to enjoy at our backyard feeders.

The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory has launched the Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project (NHIP), an innovative program designed to engage and empower residents to improve urban habitat at the most local scale, their yard. The beneficial results of this project will include enhanced suburban habitat for birds, improved water quality, expanded scientific understanding of urbanization and resident engagement in the process of science. The same actions can benefit both water quality and wildlife—e.g. reducing turf-grass area, increasing native plantings, reducing chemical inputs and implementing green infrastructure. Working together as a community, and specifically with residents in the pilot neighborhoods, we will begin to understand the effects of these changes on birds and wildlife.

Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project Goals: 

  • To improve habitat for birds and other wildlife in residential Port Washington as a pilot for future programs in other sub/urban areas. 
  • To improve water quality of suburban streams in Port Washington. 
  • To improve our scientific understanding of how urbanization affects birds. 
  • To nurture and promote a community of engaged, motivated and knowledgeable citizen scientists in Port Washington. 

Photo-by-Joel-Trick.png

Native plants attract more insects which in turn provide birds with more food and results in bigger broods and healthier chicks.

We are piloting this project in two large neighborhoods of Port Washington with approximately 2,500 residents. We selected the areas because of their proximity to parks and streams. By working close to streams, we expect greater impacts on water quality from changing lawn-care behaviors. By improving habitat near parks, NHIP enlarges the area available for wildlife, making yards and park habitats larger together than they would be apart. Additionally, by working in backyards and parks in residential areas, we will help turn these areas into classrooms for biological learning for students of all ages. In the future, we want to expand this pilot program to other communities in the Southeast Wisconsin Region. 

NHIP MonarchWatchIn addition to helping birds, native plantings on residential properties benefit vulnerable pollinator and Monarch butterfly populations.

Program Development 

We are hard at work developing outreach programs for NHIP.  In the winter, we will be offering webinars and resources on a variety of topics, including: 

  • Why native plants are important for birds and pollinators. 
  • What are the right native plants for YOUR yard? 
  • How to create bird-friendly gardens. 
  • What are the benefits of native plants? 
  • How to take care of native plants. 
  • What’s the ideal way to get started growing native plants? 
  • Where to get your native plants. 
  • What’s the difference between a native, a nativar and a cultivar plant? Why is this important? 
  • How to plan your garden in winter and reap the rewards in summer. 
  • Backyard Birding …how to make your property a birding “hotspot.” 
  • Magical Monarchs …your yard can contribute to the next generation of Monarchs to Mexico 
  • And many more. 

In the spring and summer, we will begin socially distanced programs to complement virtual offerings. Trained consultants will be available to provide one-on-one advice to the residents in the two pilot neighborhoods in Port Washington on how to address gardening concerns, including suitable native plants for your yard, deer resistance, plants for clay or sandy soil, how to establish native plants and more.  

Together with partners we will be installing model native plant gardens in Port Washington in private yards and in public spaces. These will be showcases of how native plants can thrive in the neighborhoods of Port Washington. Stay tuned for maps of their locations as they are established.  

NHIP WJ Niederkorn Library   NHIP PW City Hall
Community Conservation in Port Washington is being practiced at the municipal level as seen at the W.J. Niederkorn Library on the left and City Hall on the right.
Private citizens can use their yards to continue much needed expansion of native plantings for birds, pollinators, Monarchs ... and people in their city.

We are currently recruiting program participants and volunteers. Program participants just need to be interested in learning more about native plants and creating wildlife-friendly areas. Volunteers can do a variety things including:  

  • Serve as yard consultants, after training. 
  • Install or maintain model native gardens. 
  • Assist with socially-distanced native plant sales. 
  • Get the word out about upcoming programs via social media and message boards in Port Washington. 
  • Write articles or outreach materials about native plants, pollinators or birds. 
  • And much more. 

Please contact us at  if you are interested in volunteering or participating. 

We are working to develop this page with more information about native plant gardening in the area. In the meantime, check out the resources below for more information! Check back soon to find new resources and program announcements. Sign up for our newsletter here to stay in the loop for all WGLBBO activities, including NHIP.  

Resources

General 

Wisconsin DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program’s Plant Native Plants to Help Nature 

A great website from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on many native plant-related topics including where to purchase native plants in Wisconsin, basics of plants choice, and multiple great programs in Wisconsin.  

Minnesota DNR Landscaping with Native Plants Page 

A great page that goes through establishment, maintenance and benefits of native gardens.  

University of Minnesota Extension Native Plants 

Another good website with resources about native plant gardening in the region. 

Encyclopedias of Plants    

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center  

This is a great website to learn about nearly any native plant in North America. Just search for the name and go! 

How to Choose Plants 

National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder 

This tools allows you to search by your zip code to find plants that host the most butterflies and moths, important food for birds and other wildlife.  If you register, you can create your own list of what is in your yard.  

Morton Arboretum Tree Selector 

While this tool was developed for Northern Illinois, most of the same trees do great in Southeastern Wisconsin. Be sure to select “Yes” for the question “Would you prefer a tree that is native to Illinois?” under “What would you like in a tree?” 

Morton Arboretum Tree and Plant Finder 

Similar to the Tree Selector Tool, this tool allows you to search a database for plants that meet your yard’s needs. Again be sure to select “Chicago Area” under “Native Locale” to find native species to Southeast Wisconsin.   

Magical Monarchs 

Monarch Friendly Plants 

This is a list of plants that Monarch butterflies love created by WI Monarchs. Bloom times are also included which help you plan for a summer filled with never-ending blooms! 

Wisconsin Native Milkweeds 

Monarch caterpillars only eat native milkweed plants. This link from WI Monarchs includes the species of milkweed that are native to Wisconsin. It also details the soil, sun and water requirements for each plant.  

Videos

Pollinator Gardening

Observatory board member Jill Kunsmann details tips and strategies for planning a pollinator friendly garden.