Where to Go in Milwaukee to See the Best Wildlife this Summer

There’s plenty of nature to observe, even in the center of the city.

It usually goes unnoticed as we hustle and bustle about our human ways. But it abounds, even in the city: Nature! When one starts to pay attention, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of awe at the incredible complexity, beauty and rhythm of the natural parts of our urban landscape.

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This story is taken from our June 2019 feature:
99 Days of Summer: Here’s Your 2019 Guide to Maximal Milwaukee Summer Fun


It has seasonal displays that can be pretty incredible. This time of year, there’s the 6-foot-high compass plant and its bright yellow, daisy-like flowers, attracting the similarly showy tiger swallowtail butterflies for feasts of nectar. In spring, the redhorse suckers climb the falls at Estabrook Park in flashes of determined silver; in fall, the chimney swifts congregate in black feathered funnel clouds that swoop into Milwaukee’s historic chimneys.

My favorite is watching the peregrine falcon as it dives at some 200 mph past the windows of our city’s skyscrapers. I’ve been in meetings where the whooshing flash goes by, followed by the slow flapping climb back up with pigeon in claw to feed the nestlings at the building’s top.

One of our many naturalists at the Urban Ecology Centers – or the many nature centers near our city – can help direct your attention to more nature in our midst, no matter what time of year. We love to share what we know.

Foxes by Lake Michigan; photo by Maddie Bird

Ken Leinbach’s Top Spots for the Urban Explorer

1) Coyote Hill, Riverside Park

Watching the sunset over the Milwaukee River and the St. Casimir steeple from the highest hill in the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, just west of the Urban Ecology Center, is a must.

2) The 14-acre island in the Milwaukee River

Few know about this public land and its large evergreen grove (rare in Milwaukee) and huge hollow willow tree. The island is reachable only by canoe or kayak; put in off of the Milwaukee River Parkway just north of Hampton Avenue.

3) Lake Michigan

The best experience for feeling the lake’s magnitude is walking over a quarter mile out into it on Government Pier near McKinley Beach. You may glimpse incredible wildlife emerging from the depths on fishing lines, or the rare snowy owl in the winter, and diving ducks the rest of the year.

“Say Hello to Summer!” appeared in the June 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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