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From Salamanders To Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Wildlife Specialist Says Milwaukee Is Full Of Critters

Sharp-shinned Hawks are one of the larger bird species that call Milwaukee home.
Steve Berardi
Sharp-shinned hawks are one of the larger bird species that call Milwaukee home.

Milwaukee is the densest and most urban city in Wisconsin, but residents are sometimes surprised by the amount of wildlife found in this concrete jungle. Between the Bay View fox and the turkeys holding up traffic in Wauwatosa, the Milwaukee area is a veritable cornucopia of wild animals.

Eric Kilburg is a senior wildlife specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. From owls to coyotes to turtles, he says many animals call Milwaukee home and have learned to live near humans.

“They can adjust their behavior — being more active at night or in places that we’re not active. They sort of live among us, but we don’t always see them,” he says.

Milwaukeeans may expect to find smaller birds in their neighborhood or seagulls down by the lakeshore, but the city is also home to many larger birds, according to Kilburg.

“Bald eagles, like red-tailed hawks, barred and great horned owls, they’re not all that uncommon in urban areas — there’s plenty of food for them,” he says. “Then we have some smaller raptors, like for example Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks.”

The city’s abundance of water means that amphibians are also attracted to the Cream City. Frogs and salamanders are not mascots of the Midwest but both animals are no strangers to Milwaukee.

“Being next to the lake, having small pools, having the river that sort of runs through the area, any place — it can even be a sort of temporary pool, maybe it’s a water feature in someone’s backyard — those can serve as habitat for amphibians during part of their life cycle,” Kilburg explains.

Kilburg encourages people to look out for animals and watch them if you encounter one but says it’s not a good idea to do things like continuously feed them. These animals will naturally avoid humans, and even larger foxes or coyotes that could seem dangerous, just need a splash from a hose or a waving of your arms with a loud yell to scare them.

It’s when these animals are trained to come near humans that they start to cause issues.

“Although we want to see wildlife, and in some cases even attract them to our property, we need to make sure that we maintain proper boundaries between ourselves and the wildlife,” he says. “It’s sort of up to us to set those boundaries.”

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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