Indy becomes a better place for birds

An Indigo Burning, a common residential bird of Indianapolis.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently awarded Indianapolis the Challenge Grant for $70,000 in recognition of the city signing the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. Indianapolis is one of 19 cities awarded the grant that will be used to fund projects that will restore and protect the local bird habitat.

Holliday Park, Fort Harrison State Park and the Indianapolis Museum of Art are prime spots for bird watching and the Urban Conservation Treaty will increase that list.

"It will help make Indianapolis one of the premier birding destinations," said John Hazlett, Director of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability. "The diverse mix of open water, forest, prairie and wetlands at these sites attracts hundreds of migrant and native bird species that are appreciated by many."

Indy's Urban Bird Treaty projects will work to enhance the city's natural infrastructure to improve the bird habitat. These projects include trail design along White River and other streams to promote bird watching and enhancing the bird habitat along Pogue's Run creek.

"This treaty doesn't target any specific species, but intends to improve habitat and conditions overall to support various species throughout the city," Marjorie Hennessy, Program Manager for the Center of Urban Ecology said. "And, because it is focused on habitat, it will also lead to better conditions for other species."

Urban Bird Treaty programs will inspire Indianapolis residents in numerous ways, such as additional educational opportunities for k-12 students at the Eagle Creek Ornithology Center and engaging citizens in creation and management of bird monitoring activities. The Ornithology Center features exhibits on birds and programming such as bird of prey and bird watching, which monitors bird species and populations.

Conservation partners will receive matching dollars of the grant and in-kind support for outreach programs. The city partners include the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society, Butler University, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, Indiana Audubon Society, Indiana Wildlife Federation and the Center for Urban Ecology.

Programs are designed to bring awareness to how the city affects birds and also to educate the community about birds such as Migratory Bird Day, Cats Indoors and Lights Out Indy.

"Lights Out Indy is a program that is asking buildings downtown Indianapolis to turn off decorative and internal lighting between midnight and dawn. This will reduce accidents for migratory birds, who are frequent victims of building collisions because they aren't acclimated to city lights.

Hennessy believes the other programs will educate the city as well.

"Cats Indoors educates cat owners about the detrimental effects on bird populations due to outdoor and feral cats," Hennessy said. "Migratory Bird Day is a celebration of birds and will be hosted at Eagle Creek with the grant funding publicity and field trips for k-12 students to attend."

The grant will also fund an internship managed by the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability that local college students can apply for.

Hennessy said, "There is potential for students to develop a project proposal to assist with the Bird Treaty and work through the Center for Urban Ecology for internship credit and/or independent study."

Hennessy added the effects of the Bird Treaty and the Challenge Grant will set Indianapolis apart from other cities.

"Awareness of these features for birding and bird habitat in turn fosters stewardship of our natural resources here in the city," Hennessy said. "This project will seek to highlight Indianapolis as an important bird city."