Janesville's new title all about helping birds

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, December 16, 2013

JANESVILLE--Thanks to the work of a handful of volunteers and 10 local conservation groups, Janesville has earned the title of Bird City.

The new label means the community will work to increase healthy places for birds to live and decrease the dangers they face.

One of the first orders of business is to plan a party.

“We are looking for volunteers to help,” said Neil Deupree, a member of the committee that drew up the application to become a Bird City.

Ryan Stahl, another committee member, wants to get people involved who don't know much about birds.

“I got started in this project with zero experience in birding,” he said. “I would like to see more people with zero experience get involved.”

He especially encourages young people.

A festival in May will feature a bird walk and education about how to make backyards more appealing to birds. The new event will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, an effort aimed at making people more aware of the wonders of migration. The event will take place the second Saturday in May.

The citizens' committee and conservation groups gathered information to apply for the Bird City designation from a private group called Bird City Wisconsin.

In its third year, Bird City Wisconsin recognizes communities committed to making their neighborhoods better places for people, birds and other wildlife.

Modeled after the Tree City USA program, more than 75 Bird City communities in Wisconsin so far have:

--Improved habitat for breeding and migrating birds.

--Practiced sound management of urban forests.

--Reduced bird deaths caused by domestic cats allowed to roam freely and by birds striking windows.

Their action comes at a critical time.

Wisconsin provides important breeding, wintering or migratory habitat for more than 280 native bird species. State bird conservation groups report that 84 species, or about one third, has low or declining populations, largely because of habitat loss.

Bird City Wisconsin Coordinator Carl Schwartz said another third of all birds is holding its own.

“We need to make sure that those holding their own continue to do so,” Schwartz said. “And we need to work hard to help those in trouble.”

Bird City Wisconsin focuses on bringing back chimney swifts, purple martins and nighthawks, whose numbers are plummeting.

“Communities that have a healthy balance of habitat make good hosts for a wider number of bird species,” Schwartz said. “We need open space for wildlife. Not everything has to be mowed or turned into playgrounds. We also have to be careful about how we use pesticides. Overwhelming evidence shows that overuse of pesticides cuts down on bird populations.”

Bird City Wisconsin has been recognizing cities for three years.

“There are a lot of people out there who enjoy birds,” Schwartz said. “Whether they are wildlife watchers or amateur ornithologists, they are interested in what they can do to make a difference.”

The Janesville City Council approved the Bird City application, which highlights avian conservation already happening in the city.

In the category of creating and protecting habitat, the application noted that:

--An ongoing study monitors three rare species of birds at the Cook Memorial Arboretum, an important area for breeding and migration of forest bird species.

--Janesville provides bird habitat in the city's 15 miles of greenbelts. Through the efforts of the parks department, many of these natural areas have undergone or are currently in the process of being restored to prairies, which can provide habitat to declining species of grassland birds.

“We have a tremendous resource with our parks and greenbelt system,” city parks Director Tom Presny said. “In the years ahead, we will see more being done to accommodate birds and to educate others about birds.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.



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