Our Story

The observatory's history dates to July 16, 2010, when well-known Wisconsin ornithologist Dr. Noel J Cutright put forth this vision: “My dream and primary objective in life in the near future is to establish a Wisconsin Bird Observatory or a bird observatory with a wider scope, a Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory.” Cutright believed the success of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative pointed toward Wisconsin as an ideal location for a regional bird observatory.

Cutright raised initial funding and worked with Shawn Graf, then executive director of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and now an American Bird Conservancy vice president, to establish the Observatory in a portion of the old Squires golf clubhouse at OWLT’s  Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in northeastern Ozaukee County.

For five years, WGLBBO conducted offshore Lake Michigan waterfowl/waterbird surveys via aircraft. These focused on assessing distribution and abundance of waterfowl/waterbirds to assist long-term planning for offshore wind power.

Cutright embarked on his last great project with a fierce urgency only after he had undergone surgery for what would be diagnosed as Stage 4 colon cancer, which he would battle for four years and succumb to in November 2013. Upon his death, William Mueller was named director and those close to Noel established an Observatory Steering Committee.

Cutright hoped to play a role in the state’s second Breeding Bird Atlas, a goal Mueller more than fulfilled. He wanted to partner with Bird City Wisconsin, and its state director, Dr. Bryan Lenz, took a part-time position as the observatory’s chief scientist.

Under Mueller, the Observatory helped launch and fund the Midwest Migration Network, conducted five years of spring and fall waterbird watches at Harrington Beach State Park, bird banding at Forest Beach, bat surveys and coordination of multiple bird monitoring programs.

By the time he retired in 2019, the Observatory had formally organized as a nonprofit corporation, created a board of directors, established an endowment fund with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and moved to an office in downtown Port Washington after OWLT abandoned the old clubhouse.

With the October 2019 hiring of Dr. Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, a Ph.D. biologist with extensive experience conducting ornithological research, WGLBBO moved to concentrate on Motus expansion and its Neighborhood habitat Improvement Project, both of which drew funding to allow an increase to five staffers and a move to a larger office to support an array of partnerships in communities along the Lake Michigan shore.