MRBO Staff

The Missouri River Bird Observatory is currently operated by the MRBO founders, an Education Coordinator, a Field Project Leader, and a Conservation Science Communicator, as well as assisted by seasonal technicians and interns.

Dana Ripper – Co-founder/Director

Dana DukeDana 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.
Dana is particularly enthusiastic about MRBO’s Education 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.”

ethEthan Duke – Co-founder/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. While there, he began bird watching in earnest.
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, American Redstarts, Wild Turkeys, and grassland birds, was gained across the United States.
His years of experience gathering data for universities as well as state and federal agencies for conservation programs 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.”
Ethan has developed a state-of-the-art data collection workflow that has led to MRBO being able to compile the most comprehensive bird dataset of spatially explicit locations of birds using Missouri’s most imperiled habitats.

Paige Witek – Education Coordinator

Paige WitekIn March of 2017, Paige traveled from her hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin in search of new adventures with MRBO as a seasonal educator. She returned in 2018 and became MRBO’s first Education Coordinator. Paige graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison in May of 2016 with a B.S. Degree in Zoology and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. The origin of Paige’s passion for conservation, birds and environmental education cannot be pinpointed to any one experience in her lifetime, but developed as a result of a hodgepodge of past experiences, including her work with zoos, wildlife rehabilitation and education centers, wildlife sanctuaries and studying abroad in Queensland, Australia. In 2019, she will be expanding MRBO’s Young Explorers Club and the Missouri Young Birders’ Club, which she launched in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Paige is truly excited to continue to inform and inspire others.



Erik Ost – Field Project Leader

Erik was born in Maryland and raised in Northern Virginia. He graduated with a B.S. in Organismal Biology from Christopher Newport University in 2015.  Growing up hiking and traveling to National Parks he developed a connection with nature and wildlife.  During an Ornithology course in college, he found a passion for birding and avian conservation.  His love of wildlife and commitment to conservation brought him to MRBO. Erik was a MRBO Wetland Surveyor in 2016 prior to spending time in Bolivia working with Blue-throated Macaws.  He returned to MRBO as a Grassland Bird Technician in 2017. As of 2019, Erik has been serving as the project leader for our research and monitoring. He is also taking classes at Northwest Missouri State University and plans to achieve a M.S. in GIScience by the end of 2020.