Promoting the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds.

By Wendy Schultz (WSO Awards Committee Chair)

One of WSO’s crown jewels is our annual recognition of outstanding individuals and organizations that have done amazing work on behalf of birds. Whether furthering the advancement of bird conservation, promoting the field of ornithology or contributing time or talent to the society itself, every January the Board of Directors selects from a list of worthy nominations their slate of Passenger Pigeon Award recipients.

In any ordinary year, in addition to sharing the list of award recipients, we would be sharing exciting details about the Award Ceremony and Reception, an important part of what would have been our 81st Annual Convention. Unfortunately, this is no ordinary year. Because of the coronavirus, the much-anticipated Two Rivers convention has been cancelled, along with all other organized WSO events through the month of May.

The good news is that WSO Board will be looking at options to honor a record 13 outstanding recipients, so please stay tuned.

Here are the 2020 WSO Award Recipients:

The Golden Passenger Pigeon Award is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of ornithology and awarded for recognized published research, major book efforts or other such work in ornithology and limited to 15 living members at any time. This year Golden awards will go to both George Archibald (left) and Sumner Matteson (right).

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Archibald (nominated by Thomas Schultz) is well known among bird enthusiasts in Wisconsin and internationally for his co-founding of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, which seeks to promote crane protection and conservation all around the world. Archibald served as ICF director from 1973 to 2000 and continues his work there as Senior Conservationist.

Archibald’s entire adult lifetime has been spent saving cranes. Starting in 1976 with a captive Whooping Crane named “Tex,” Archibald pioneered several techniques to rear cranes in captivity, including the use of crane costumes by human handlers. Through intense dedication, personal charisma and extensive travel, he has developed close friendships with countless individuals and leaders abroad. He has worked tirelessly to promote crane conservation and protection of their habitats.

Matteson (nominated by Nancy Nabak) has worked for the DNR as a nongame biologist, conservation biologist and avian ecologist. For more than 45 years, he has worked on population dynamics, status, distribution, nesting success and management of colonial waterbirds in Wisconsin. In that time, he has authored more than 40 papers, two books and participated in many research studies.

Many regard Matteson’s crowning achievement as his efforts in the recovery of the Trumpeter Swan in Wisconsin. There were ZERO Trumpeter swans in the state of Wisconsin 100 years ago and by 1932, only 69 left in the continental United States. Now there are more than 2,000 in Wisconsin and five times that number in the Great Lakes region.

The Silver Passenger Pigeon is presented to members of WSO for distinguished service to the Society. This year the award goes to Levi Wood (below).

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Wood (nominated by Mary Korkor and Thomas Schultz) is a former WSO board member who for many years chaired its Honey Creek Committee, overseeing a number of improvements and expansion of the property as well as waging a tough fight against invasive species such as garlic mustard. 

His participation in fundraising and messaging the importance of the 105-acree Dischler addition helped achieve overwhelming support from the membership. Wood was able to secure LIP (Landowner Incentive Program) Grants from the DNR for three years, allowing WSO to execute land restoration and mitigation of invasive species in this fragile and unique habitat.

The Bronze Passenger Pigeon is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their local communities or in the state to promote the field of ornithology through conservation work or through organizational efforts. This year Bronze awards will go to Michelle Voss (left) and Ryan Brady (right).

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 Voss (nominated by Dreux Watermolen, Sumner Matteson and Caitlin Williamson) works for the DNR as a technology transfer specialist, helping scientists and resource managers effectively communicate research findings and management guidelines. She has assisted numerous ornithologists, waterfowl biologists, wildlife managers and related professionals in making bird research and conservation information engaging and accessible. The results of her work are seen in the visually pleasing, accessible pamphlets, books, reports, and similar products that communicate detailed and complex information about birds for a wide range of users. Her “behind-the-scenes” work on behalf of birds and bird conservation is impressive.

Brady (nominated by Aaron Stutz) is a conservation biologist with the DNR’s Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. As a research scientist he serves as bird monitoring coordinator for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership and as science coordinator for the second Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas project, which completed its fifth and final year of field observations last year. Brady was nominated for his leadership on WBBA II. He also has led multiyear projects to monitor nightjars, secretive marsh birds and Red-shouldered Hawks.

The Noel J. Cutright Conservation Award, originally called the Green Passenger Pigeon, is presented to individuals/groups/organizations that work on behalf of endangered, threatened or common species, promote the establishment, management and protection of bird habitat and educate the public on bird conservation issues. This year awards go to brothers John and Gene Jacobs, Ken Lange and Mike Mossman (pictured below from left to right).

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John Jacobs (nominated by Carl Schwartz) worked as a naturalist at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary for three years, then as curator of science at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County for 32 year. He has been banding Red-shouldered Hawks since 1970 as part of annual breeding studies for both the DNR and the U.S. Forest Service in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. He is senior author with his brother Gene of a large document commissioned by the USFS in 2002 called “Conservation Assessment for Red-Shouldered Hawk National Forests of North Central States.”

Gene Jacobs (nominated by Carl Schwartz) is a raptor biologist and director of the Linwood Springs Research Station. In addition to his studies on Red-shouldered Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Saw-whet Owls he provides research and consulting services as owner of Raptor Services, LLC. He has studied Wisconsin raptors since 1973, banding more than 17,000, authoring or co-authoring numerous articles in various peer reviewed journals. He teaches raptor field technique workshops for the UW-Stevens Point outreach program and joined Project SNOWstorm in 2013, tagging a number of Snowy Owls for the research program.

Lange (nominated by Mike Mossman, Sumner Matteson, Jeb Barzen and Ann Calhoun) was WSO’s Winter Field-Notes Editor for The Passenger Pigeon for 27 years. He has identified and listed over 400 plant species on WSO’s Honey Creek property as part of his lifelong study of Sauk County and the Baraboo Hills.

In the tradition of the classical naturalist, Lange delved deep into various realms of natural and human history, developing a mature understanding of conservation and how birds fit into the larger picture of the natural world and human history. His broad perspective influenced countless people, from birders and nature-lovers to teachers, scientists, conservationists, land managers and the decision-makers who guide how land is used. This he did through his many publications, his years of public contact as an interpretive naturalist at Devils Lake State Park (1966-‘96), and as a guide, scholar, field companion, mentor and example to many students of nature, from novice to expert.

Mossman (nominated by Levi Wood and Sumner Matteson) recently retired from the DNR as a field biologist, and over his long career was a major research contributor to the recovery of Trumpeter Swans and Forster’s Terns in Wisconsin. He developed important protocols for breeding bird surveys on State Natural Areas and surveyed bird communities all along the 90-mile Lower Wisconsin River, making several recommendations to improve the area for birds.

He created the habitat codes used in the first Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, making the atlas useful and informative. His seminal work entitled “Breeding Birds of the Baraboo Hills, Wisconsin: Their History, Distribution and Ecology” has been the gold standard on regional avian ecological studies.

The Samuel D. Robbins Lifetime Achievement Award honors those who actively contribute to WSO above and beyond having previously received the Silver Passenger Pigeon and the WSO Certificate of Appreciation. This year the award goes to Robert Domagalski.

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Domagalski (nominated by Mark Peterson) is best known for his longtime work as WSO’s “Compiler of Annual and Life Lists” and as Fall Field Notes Editor. Bob also has spent hundreds of hours going through old issues of the Passenger Pigeon, compiling lists of Wisconsin rare bird reports and extreme dates – which he has continued to maintain. He received the Silver Passenger Pigeon Award in 2008 and the Certificate of Appreciation in 2015.

WSO’s Special Recognition Award was created to recognize the collective efforts of a far-reaching project or partnership that increases the public’s awareness and appreciation for birds, their habitats or the need for conservation. This year the award goes to Project SOAR and team members Erin Giese, Janet Wissink, and Frank Ujazdowski (pictured below from left to right).

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Project SOAR (Snowy Owl Airport Rescue) (nominated by Carl Schwartz) was the brainchild of falconer Ujazdowski and two leaders of local Audubon chapters, Wissink of Winnebago Audubon and Giese of Northeast Wisconsin Audubon.

In 2018, after Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh shot a Snowy Owl it considered a hazard for planes, Ujazdowski wondered if he could put his expertise to work saving owls. He contacted Wissink and asked if she could set up a meeting with airport managers. At that meeting, he offered to trap and relocate Snowy Owls and other raptors so there would be no need to shoot them. SOAR was born. His work caught the attention of Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, which approached Giese and asked her to work with Ujazdowski to do the same at their facility. Since then, SOAR has relocated many Snowy Owls, Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, and an American Kestrel.