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Bald eagle | Osprey | Kirtland's warbler
Black tern | Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
Ornate box turtle | Timber wolf | Prairie white-fringed orchid
Karner blue butterfly | Mink frog
Sustaining the best of our natural heritage
Artful support for the rare and beautiful
In July 2007, a months-old eaglet left a nest atop a white pine and took its first flight along the lakeshore. Though a common sight near rivers and on lakes in northern Wisconsin, this particular solo flight was along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Mequon, a few miles from downtown Milwaukee.
This past spring, a pair of eagles returned to the area. For a second year, after an absence of more than a century, another baby eagle took flight in southeastern Wisconsin. A permanent, secluded nesting area for these birds was secured thanks to gifts from individual donors, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, financial help from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and a state Stewardship Fund grant.
Thanks to your generous spirit, eagles soar and Wisconsin is a leader in bald eagle recovery with about 1,150 breeding pairs found statewide, the third largest population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.
Like the bald eagle, osprey numbers declined rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, victims of pesticide contamination and emergent suburbs.
Today, these magnificent birds with their fivefoot wing spans are staging a remarkable recovery. Osprey are nesting in more than half of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Last year about 480 pairs of nesting ospreys successfully hatched nearly 570 chicks; two-thirds of these birds rely on artificial nesting platforms built by volunteer organizations and sponsored by Wisconsin businesses.
Breeding pairs of these very rare warblers were discovered in Wisconsin for the first time this summer. At least 10 of these warblers fledged in young jack pine forests of central Wisconsin on parcels owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company and managed with assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wisconsin is fortunate to host some of the largest black tern colonies in the Midwest, attracting researchers and biologists from across the country to study, band and record observations of this Species of Special Concern. Research aims to quantify its population and range in the upper Midwest.
Learn what steps you can take to provide further support for endangered resources at the Endangered Resources Donation Center.
Massasauga means "great river mouth" in Ojibwe (Chippewa), and the massasauga rattlesnake is usually found in river bottom forests and nearby fields. Historically, these snakes were found across southern Wisconsin. Records indicate thousands of them were killed in the late 1800s as the city of Milwaukee expanded. The eastern massasauga is one of two poisonous snakes in Wisconsin, and until 1975 a bounty of up to $5 a tail was paid to kill this "swamp rattler" and its cousin, the timber rattlesnake.
When the bounty was lifted, the massasauga was placed on Wisconsin's endangered and threatened species list. While some feared this protection would allow the snake to multiply out of control, their numbers actually appear to be steadily declining. Loss of wetlands and other habitat continues to be a limiting factor, and the number of snakes killed for the bounty may have reduced the population to such low levels that recovery is difficult.
Presently, massasaugas are found only in isolated areas of southeastern, central and west central Wisconsin. There is no solid evidence of how many massasaugas remain in the state; consequently, there is no recovery or management plan for this species. Life history studies have been proposed and hopefully will yield information from which a management plan can be crafted. Without such protection, the massasauga has little chance for survival.
Two of Wisconsin's 11 turtle species are threatened – the wood and Blanding's turtles – and the ornate box turtle is endangered.
The five-inch ornate box turtle is strictly terrestrial, preferring dry prairies and oak savannas with sandy soils where it can burrow deep enough to avoid freezing in winter. This turtle is slow to mature but can live 40 years or more. As its name implies, when threatened, the box turtle retreats into its shell and draws its upper and lower hinged shells tightly together. Loss of habitat, fatal encounters with cars and illegal collection by people looking for unusual pets have threatened this ancient species with extinction.
A little more than 40 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the timber (or gray) wolf federally endangered. When wolves began to re-colonize Wisconsin in 1975, the timber wolf joined the state endangered species list.
Many wildlife advocates recognized the importance of a healthy wolf population to a diverse and healthy ecosystem. The Department of Natural Resources began intense monitoring using radio collars, winter snow-tracking and summer howl surveys. In 1980, 25 wolves in five packs were documented statewide. In the 1990s, the wolf population grew rapidly, and last year's count found about 540 wolves across northern Wisconsin and expanding southward. Federal courts recently restored national protection for the timber wolf.
This rare orchid that is endangered in Wisconsin and threatened nationwide grows in pockets of moist prairies and wet meadows. Perhaps as few as 400 plants remain in the 11 spots where this orchid has been identified. Restoring the higher water table, discouraging invasive plants and carefully monitoring set prairie fires may help this rare species.
The Wisconsin landscape supports the largest and most widespread Karner blue populations worldwide. For the past five years the Department of Natural Resources has been working with the federal government and 25 partners on a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan to ensure suitable habitat across the state for this thumbnail-sized butterfly.
This small frog is found only in northern Wisconsin, northern Ontario and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Its call has been likened to the sound of horses' hooves trotting over a cobblestone street. The males call while floating or seated on lily pads. Its most unique feature is its smell, a musky odor compared to rotting onions.
More than 590 State Natural Areas protect remnants of our natural past and provide home and habitat for rare species. But natural areas don't protect themselves. People provide the oversight to prevent development, remove invasive species, repair weather damage and slow down succession. Here, a parcel of Spring Green Preserve in Sauk County is periodically burned to retard weedy growth and open up space for native plants, a role that wildfires used to play to maintain the sand prairie in this Wisconsin "desert." This steep bluff adjoining the prairie grades into an oak forest at the bluff top. The site is home to nearly 40 species of plants, including plains snake-cotton and Venus' looking-glass. Birds, three lizard species and invertebrates – including predatory wasps, five species of cicada, eight tiger beetles and 10 species of burrowing spiders – thrive on this property.
Kathleen Wolski is the public involvement manager for the Department of Natural Resources in Madison.