The Missouri River Bird Observatory is currently operated by the MRBO founders, one long-term assistant, and seasonal research assistants and interns.
Missouri River Bird Observatory Founders Dana Ripper & Ethan Duke
Ethan and Dana bring many years of field research
and public education experience to MRBO.
Dana Ripper – Director
Dana is a native of Illinois but moved to Hong Kong with her family at a young age and attended elementary and middle school there. She chose to return to her hometown of Naperville where she received her bachelor’s degree in biology at North Central College. Although she earned the 1998 “Biology Student of the Year” award, Dana missed her commencement ceremony as she was already off pursing her career with a posting at Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada. Already it was evident her focus would be avian ecology and conservation.
In 2000 Dana enrolled at Arkansas State University to obtain her Master’s Degree in Wildlife Biology. Her thesis on habitat use by Hairy Woodpeckers in western Washington State took her again to the top of class and awards.
The move to Missouri in 2008 was a pivotal point in Dana’s life. In a very short time she established a relationship with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Her early work at Grand Pass in conjunction with MDC served as the foundation for the founding of MRBO.
Anyone who has the opportunity to meet Dana will immediately feel her passion for avian conservation. She will enthuse on her vision for research and monitoring of bird populations; not just for the sake of knowledge in and of itself but for the purpose of putting that knowledge to work to save declining bird populations across the state and beyond.
“Our work at MRBO needs to be executed on a long term basis”, Dana explained. “Monitoring in a fixed location must be ongoing to obtain proper data. More widespread off-site monitoring is also necessary to assess a variety of different habitats and impacts on the landscape scale.” The findings of MRBO are shared with state, federal and private agencies.
Dana went on to express her enthusiasm for MRBO’s Community Outreach Program: “There is no way we will ever be able to conserve anything if people don’t know or care about it. Birds are great ambassadors for conservation. I’ve seen people who seemed afraid of even the smallest of birds but once a colorful wild bird is held in a hand just inches for their peering eyes, they become enamored and want to become a part of this beautiful world that we call nature.”
Ethan Duke – Assistant Director
The rural northern Appalachia area of western New York State offers a wealth of biodiversity and it was here that Ethan grew up and experienced a childhood surrounded by many of the wonders that nature had to offer.
Four years in the service of our country as a member of the US Air Force took Ethan overseas. He earned a number of Air Force medals for achievements and several Commanders’ awards for his work.
Upon returning to the States, Ethan earned his Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management in 2006 from the State University of New York at Cobleskill. During these and the following years he also gained invaluable knowledge for his work at MRBO.
Extensive experience in research and monitoring of several avian species, including Pileated Woodpeckers, Veerys, Cerulean Warblers and American Redstarts, was gained across the United States. Work with game species and grassland birds rounded out skills.
All of this led to further assign
ments in recent years gathering data for universities as well as state and federal agencies for conservation programs. This became an important feature in the founding of MRBO.
One of Ethan’s fortes is avian vocal communication or more simply put, bird songs. He willingly shares his thoughts on this, “There is something about listening to a bird sing that I will never grow tired of. Birds are such an enjoyable medium through which MRBO can connect with people and this enables us to employ a seamless integration of research, education and conservation.”
Bioacoustics, a science involving recording and analyzing sounds, has become an integral component in avian research and monitoring. This new technology will be employed by MRBO in the Secretive Marsh Bird project that is being done in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Services and Missouri Department of Conservation.
Ethan has deployed Autonomous Recording Units (ARU) in the field to supplement MRBO’s Grand Pass Conservation Area banding station data as well as using the devices for the statewide Purple Martin project and at MAPS stations. He enthused, “I find the potential results fascinating and this will prove invaluable in our conservations efforts”.
Veronica Mecko: Special Projects Coordinator
Veronica Mecko grew up in Illinois but went to school in Iowa, graduating from Grinnell College with a B.A. in biology, and has lived more than 20 years in Iowa. She has always had an interest in the natural world. About 10 years ago she focused on birds and began to identify and monitor the different bird species she observed on the 20-acre micro-farm she and her family lived on. She especially enjoyed spring and fall when the migratory species would pass through. In 2007 she visited Hitchcock Nature Center north of Council Bluffs and started volunteering as a hawk counter during the autumn hawk watches. In September of 2010, she spent 10 days at Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario and learned the basics of banding passerine birds. In January of 2011 she took a leave of absence from her job to pursue her interest in birds and from February through mid-May she volunteered and then did an internship in avian rehabilitation at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. From Florida, Veronica headed to Missouri to volunteer with MRBO. She worked with the MAPS banding project on prairie sites and also with the purple martin nestling banding project during the summer and stayed on for the fall migration banding as a research assistant. She considers her work at MRBO as invaluable for learning more about avian research and the opportunity to work on the prairies and in the woodlands of Missouri. Veronica will continue to be involved in the hawk watch and hawk and northern saw-whet owl banding in Iowa and hopes to pursue other work in avian research.