Monitoring the Eastern Bluebird

Bluebird 3

The beautiful Eastern Bluebird is a favorite among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. It is also an important predator on insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles, which can be destructive to crops. It can be found in parks, gardens, hedges, and other areas across Wisconsin. Over the past few decades, the Eastern Bluebird has had trouble reproducing, and their populations have been declining. This is mainly due to habitat destruction and competition. Due to this loss in population size, Eastern Bluebirds have become somewhat protected throughout their nesting range. Because of efforts by volunteer groups and homeowners who have put up bluebird nest boxes, the Eastern Bluebird has started to bounce back.

Here at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center at the Monona campus, we have nine Bluebird nest boxes spread out across the grounds, which we have had for six years.  These nest boxes are wooden boxes with a 1.5 inch diameter round hole to prevent larger, invasive birds, such as the European Starling, from getting into the boxes.

This summer we are lucky enough to have a team of Badger Volunteers working with us at the Monona Campus. This is a program through the Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW-Madison. They are helping us with many different projects this summer, including working on our new phenology garden, as well as monitoring our Eastern Bluebird boxes.

Bluebird Eggs

We try to monitor these boxes twice a month by checking each box to see if there is anything in them, and if there is, what species has inhabited the box. Eastern Bluebirds make very neat nests built with fine grasses or pine needles, so it is very easy to tell if they have inhabited the box. On the other hand, their main competitor, the House Sparrow, makes a very messy nest, usually with all sorts of materials, including garbage. If there is a nest present in a box from a species other than the Eastern Bluebird, we may remove it, to ensure that there is available habitat for the local bluebird population. Additionally, we check to see if there are eggs or babies in the nests. We record all of this information and send the data to the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW).

Having your own Bluebird nest box in your yard is one way to help this beautiful species and can be a good way to observe them as they grow from eggs to full grown adults, which is a great learning experience. They are very easy to build and could make for a fun summer project!

Check Out the New ALNC Phenology Gardens and Trail Signs!

Phen Garden 1

Our new Phenology Garden was installed in early summer 2014 just outside the Nina Leopold Bradley Family Phenology Center.

Our Mission at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is to “…teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands,” a quote from Aldo Leopold himself. The Mission remains strong with our new Phenology Garden at the Monona campus Nature Center. This garden allows students to come and learn about the land through phenology. Phenology is the study of nature’s seasonal changes from year to year, such the first lilac bloom in late spring, the arrival of the monarch butterfly in early summer, and the departure of geese in the fall. Keeping records of these changes allows us to connect more deeply with the world around us and it helps us to better understand the ecosystems we are a part of.


UW Badger Volunteers have been helping maintain the garden, which features native plants.

The garden will serve as a living classroom where our visitors can observe and record information about native flora and fauna, as well as ecology and habitats. We could not have created the wonderful garden without help from the Partners for Recreation and Conservation Grant (PARC Grant). This Dane County initiative provides financial assistance to outdoor recreation and conservation projects.  Support from the Madison Community Foundation helped ALNC match the PARC grant and build the garden; additionally, support from MCF and the PARC grant will enable us to build an Accessible Nature Trail, add a Wetland Education Bridge connecting our trails on and off the island, and continue to restore our native habitats onsite.

Aldo Leopold kept records of the natural world around him in Madison and Baraboo, WI from 1935 to 1945. His daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley, continued her family’s phonological research from 1976 to 2011. Thanks to this new Phenology Garden, we can follow the Leopolds’ footsteps and keep records about the Nature Center’s ecosystem to better understand our surroundings, which we can pass on to our visitors at our Monona campus.


New interpretive trail signs along the accessible nature trail at ALNC.

The PARC grant and Madison Community Foundation match also supported the addition of an accessible trail and new interpretive trail signs at ALNC, which adds depth and accessibility to the nature experience at ALNC.  Stop by soon to check it out for yourself!

Climate Forward: The Wisconsin Academy’s New Climate and Energy Roadmap


Source: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

Climate change has become an important conversation for the international, national and local communities. Here in Wisconsin, organizations and communities are going beyond conversation and taking positive steps towards solutions that reduce emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

A recent publication by the Wisconsin Academy, Climate Forward: A New Road Map for Wisconsin’s Climate and Energy Future, highlights these innovative and sustainable organizations and communities across our state and provides insight to assess how we can all build a safe future for our environment and for ourselves. For the past eighteen months, the Wisconsin Academy has gathered a diverse team of thoughtful experts and stakeholders from various sectors around the state, encouraging and amplifying productive conversations about innovative climate and energy solutions for Wisconsin.

Brenna Holzhauer, Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s Director of Exhibits and Digital Curricula and Nature Net Coordinator, was a contributor to the publication. With her background in climate science and environmental education, her input mainly centered around the importance of public engagement, environmental education, and climate and energy literacy for Wisconsin residents of all ages. Her contributions to the report align with Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s mission and programming, as we work with visitors and students of all ages towards better connections with nature and the environment and greater understanding of climate, energy, and the natural systems around us. We agree that environmental education is a lifelong learning process which contributes to an informed and involved citizenry, able to take action to help ensure an ecologically and economically sustainable environment.

Given Wisconsin’s wealth of scientific and technical capacity in these areas, its rich conservation heritage (including Aldo Leopold!), and the impacts of climate change on Wisconsin life, the Wisconsin Academy group released this report in an effort to stimulate more public dialogue on this topic and spark innovative solutions in individuals, businesses, and community leaders. As climate change continues, our environment will change, but these profiles of Wisconsin organizations and communities that are doing good for the environment give us hope for the future.

Find more information and view the full report here:

MPower Business Champion Program

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center was recently selected to participate in Sustain Dane’s 2014 MPower Business Champion Program, a one year program for businesses and organizations in the Madison area that aim to become more sustainable and reduce their environmental impact, while saving costs. ALNC is part of a cohort with 12 other area businesses.

Sustain Dane logoExecutive Director of Sustain Dane, Jessie Lerner, said that the MPower Business Champions “represent the top tier of environmental and social leadership among the Madison Region’s business community”. We here at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center are incredibly excited to be a part of this great program, working with Sustain Dane! This will enable us to find even more ways to become a more sustainable organization and begin working on all kinds of new and exciting green initiatives.

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s
electric car charging station Monona Campus was built using natural and recycled materials, and has many green initiatives, including solar energy, water efficiency, an electric car charging station, and more. While we have already taken steps towards being an efficient and earth-friendly organization, this collaboration with Sustain Dane will help us succeed even more in reducing our use of energy, water, transportation and waste. The Madison community has many available resources for reducing emissions, but they can sometimes be hard to take full advantage of. This program will allow us to discover new resources, and figure out how to utilize them to improve the efficiency of our organization. We will be attending monthly Sustainability Sessions, which will help us discover practical ways of reducing our carbon footprint. These educational sessions cover all different aspects of sustainability, including transportation, waste reduction and sustainable food choices, and are now open to the public for a fee of $10.00.

Since the creation of this program in 2009, there have been nearly 70 local businesses and organizations that have successfully reduced emissions and waste, improved energy efficiency, and made Dane County a better community overall. From 2009-2013, this program has led to the reduction of over 26,110 tons CO2, and has saved $1,657,000 in annual costs by reducing electricity, gasoline, water and natural gas! It has been a tremendous success so far, and we are excited to be able to contribute this upcoming year.

Check out the press release from Sustain Dane here for more details!