By Caitlyn Schuchhardt
Natural Resource Foundation
Photo courtesy of Grupo Quetzalli
Canada Warblers captured in Nicaragua’s first constant effort mist-netting station in the Central Highlands.
Madison -- Wisconsin’s love for birds flies high—and nowhere is that more apparent than in the results of the 2021 Great Wisconsin Birdathon, the annual fundraiser for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s Bird Protection Fund (BPF). Birdathoners from every corner of the state came together and raised a record-breaking $108,000 for bird conservation.
The Bird Protection Fund gives back to Wisconsin’s birds, supporting them throughout their lifecycle—from their breeding grounds in Wisconsin to their migratory habitat in Central and South America. The BPF’s reach is encompassing—it not only funds the conservation of Wisconsin’s most threatened and endangered species, but also the creation and protection of habitat; research and monitoring projects; and education and outreach initiatives that engage new audiences in bird conservation.
Since the BPF’s inception in 2009, it has given out over $1.2 million towards Wisconsin’s highest priority bird conservation projects. Every year, the BPF’s advisory committee gathers to review bird conservation priorities in Wisconsin and identify the areas of greatest need.
This year’s the BPF will award nearly $60,000 to the following projects:
- Kirtland’s Warbler Nest Monitoring (Wisconsin DNR): Kirtland’s Warblers are an endangered songbird that nest in Wisconsin in regions with suitable jack pine habitat. Funds will support the continued monitoring of nesting sites in central Wisconsin.
- Neighborhood Habitat Improvement Project (NHIP) (Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory): NHIP is an impactful program designed to make suburban and urban areas more bird-friendly, while providing scientists and environmental practitioners data on how to do so more effectively. Funds will support ongoing project coordination that improves habitat for birds and other wildlife in the Port Washington area, while creating a pilot program for use in other sub/urban areas.
- Neotropical Flyways Project (Cornell Lab of Ornithology / SELVA): The Neotropical Flyways Project helps fill one of the largest gaps in our knowledge of the full life cycle of migratory birds by identifying critical stopover sites and habitat in the Neotropics that migratory bird species depend on. Funds will support the expansion of their surveys to Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.
- Outreach and Optics Purchase (BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin): The goal of the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin is to develop a community of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and allies that will increase diversity, equity and inclusion in birding and the outdoors in Dane County and Wisconsin, changing the narrative about who is or can be a birder. Funds will support the purchase of binoculars to increase access to birding gear as well as capacity building and outreach through monthly events and social media.
- Piping Plover Conservation and Management in Wisconsin (DNR): Piping Plovers are a federally endangered species that relies on habitat in the Great Lakes. Funds will focus on habitat management and creation of potential breeding sites, monitoring of nesting pairs and banding of chicks.
- Reintroduction of Whooping Cranes into Eastern North America (International Crane Foundation): Whooping Cranes are one of the most threatened species in North America. This funding will support captive breeding and rearing of chicks using costume-rearing and parent-rearing methods, specialized veterinary care, and monitoring of reintroduced cranes in Wisconsin, as well as community education and outreach to protect this species.
Photo by Dexter Patterson
The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin hosted a kickoff event in July in the Madison area, inviting Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), allies and families to explore the joy of birding together.
These seven projects showcase the incredible range of support for Wisconsin’s birds—from protecting their breeding grounds here in Wisconsin all the way to their migratory habitat in Central and South America.
For example, the Neotropical Flyways Project has been receiving BPF funding since 2018 and continues to report ground-breaking new discoveries about migration patterns each year—like the discovery of a major “stopover” region for Black-billed Cuckoos in Ecuador and new information on the migratory style of Canada Warblers. Continued funding will gather insights that can help protect the migratory routes of Wisconsin’s birds.
The Bird Protection Fund also recognizes the power that education and outreach initiatives hold in creating passion for birds and bird conservation. New to receiving funding this year is the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin. Established on Juneteenth 2021 by Dexter Patterson and Dr. Jeff Galligan, this group is out to “flip the script” on who can be a birder.
“Both of us love and have a passion for all things birding and realize that people of color are just not engaging in the outdoors enough, whether it be for exercise, hobbies, recreation or advocacy and stewardship. We want to change that,” Galligan said. “We would love for one of our events to be the catalyst for a young birder of color who gets that ‘spark’ that leads to a career in ornithology or other STEM field.”
Funding for the Bird Protection Fund comes from hundreds of participants and thousands of donors involved in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon, as well as individuals who donate directly to the Bird Protection Fund. The Birdathon began in 2012 and has raised more than $600,000 for bird protection in Wisconsin.
The NRF is a statewide nonprofit organization that connects generations to the wonders of Wisconsin’s lands, waters, and wildlife through conservation, education, engagement and giving. Since 1986, the foundation has contributed more than $9.5 million to public and private conservation efforts, and currently holds more than 100 endowment funds with over $10 million in assets dedicated to conserving lands, protecting wildlife and promoting conservation in Wisconsin in perpetuity.