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Nesting Owls & Barn Owl Restoration with Bruce Ehresman

Posted on 9/25/2019
Join us for the September installment of the 2019 Speaker Series on Saturday, October 12th at Hitchcock Nature Center as we welcome Bruce Ehresman, recently retired avian ecologist for the Iowa Dept. or Natural Resources Wildlife Diversity Program as he discusses owl conservation programs. Participants will get an up-close look at a live screech owl during this informative presentation.  This event is free with park admission or an annual membership & it is open to anyone age 14 & over. 

Register online and get more information about this event on our website. 

Bruce was kind enough to chat with our Naturalist Michelle to give you all an idea of what to expect & help you get to know him & prepare for his upcoming program.

What sparked your interest in conservation and wildlife?

As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by wild animals. At age two, I have memory of watching a cottontail rabbit in our yard. Grandpa & Grandma Ehresman taught me how to hunt and be respectful of other lives. Plus they told me stories of living through the depression and hunting wildlife (Prairie Chickens and jackrabbits in western NE) to help keep meat on the table. My conservation ethic was developed over time, early on from my grandparents (all four) and reading lots of books. The turning point came in the early 1970s - while studying fisheries and wildlife biology and animal ecology at ISU and also from reading books by Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, John Muir, John Burroughs, Gary Snyder, and Barry Lopez

You are presenting at the speaker series coming up on October 12th what are some highlights we can expect at your presentation?

A live Eastern Screech Owl and Barred Owl will be used (on the fist) to talk about those two species. We shall discuss life history of each of Iowa's seven nesting owls, what each species eats, where it lives and nests, what its current population status is, and what each one of us can do to benefit these amazing animals. Most of the program will center on Iowa's Barn Owl restoration efforts, an example of how the public is participating to bring back a species that was nearly gone from Iowa.

What is your favorite part of your work?

Sharing my passion for Wildness and meeting and learning from others who share that passion! For the record -  "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." - Albert Einstein

When you were a fledgling student/intern/biologist/researcher what was one of your most frustrating challenges and how did you keep yourself motivated?

As a biologist-ecologist-naturalist, one of the biggest challenges early in my career is the same one that frustrates me today. How can we inspire others to care about the natural world? For without seeing that people are caring and acting toward nature in a positive way, it is difficult to have hope for the future of this planet. My grandma B. and my mom both advised to never give up, to persevere, and to lead by example. Finding common ground with people is a good starting point from which to build trust and respect. Once there exists mutual trust and respect, meaningful experiences and knowledge about nature can be shared more freely.

If you only had a minute or two to inspire or encourage people to care about conservation, what would you tell them?

I first would encourage people to think about what aspect of nature truly inspires them and why it inspires them or is meaningful to them, an aspect they truly would not wish to see gone from their life. It can be a particular woodland, prairie, or a stream. It might be the singing birds in their yard, a local bald eagle nest, or a patch of blooming flowers full of butterflies. I next would ask them to envision that special aspect that they love to be totally gone from their life and how that loss might affect them.

I next would ask them if they are willing to take action to make sure that aspect that is so meaningful to them (and perhaps to their kids, their friends or other family members) does not disappear from their lives. If they say that they are willing to take action and ask how to do that, I likely would suggest that they make more effort to be involved with local conservation groups and get to know their local conservation agency naturalists and biologists. If they had specific questions about particular animals or plantings for wildlife that they wished to know more about, I would help them find that information.

I also would suggest that they read or re-read A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. If they ask how they can know what the right and wrong actions are, I would provide a Leopold quote, "A thing is right when it tends to support the stability, integrity, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong if it tends otherwise."

Are there any suggested books or publications you would suggest, for participants who are interested in learning more prior the event in October?

My favorite natural history book on owls is North American Owls by Paul Johnsgard. A fun read is Barn Owls by Wofgang Epple. It is a story (with great photos) of Barn Owls raising babies in barns in Europe. An older book that we acquired in the 1970s is The Book of Owls by Lewis Wayne Walker. It's full of facts and personal stories from the experiences of the author. The only Iowa owl not covered in this book is Barred Owl. One Man's Owl by Bernd Heinrich is a wonderful story of an owl that Bernd rescued and rehabilitated, then released and studied.

Build your own nesting box with Bruce's downloadable plans


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