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A Talk on the Wild Side.

One Evening in the Life of a Federal Wildlife Officer

By Jeff Lucas, USFWS

The sun is getting low in the still, western sky of central Minnesota.

A brilliant, fiery orange hue is cast across the landscape. The wetland is a glassy mirror, literally doubling the picture of this amazing sight. The sweet smell of the prairie is unexplainable.

As I sit in the tall grass on this cool, fall evening, I can only think, “Wow, this is my office.”

Suddenly the silence is broken by multiple shotgun blasts coming from just over the rise on the prairie before me.


The Fish & Wildlife Service You Don't Know: Defender of the Known Universe?

Ask a random sampling of Fish and Wildlife Service employees how they feel about their work. More than one will quickly and enthusiastically characterize their jobs in this agency as, “Out of this world!”

Yet only one Fish and Wildlife Service employee holds legitimate title to a job description that’s been truly “extraterrestrial” in its scope.

Jim Warren

Jim Warren who began his career in 1960 as a $4,040-a-year, GS-5 fish biologist, tucked away amid the fir trees of Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in woodsy Washington State’s Columbia River gorge. 

Within a decade, fortune had bestowed on Warren the title of “Defender of the Known Universe Against All Contaminating Alien Life Forms.”  (Clearly a responsibility well outside his official job description … the pay still nothing to write home about, however.)


The Fish & Wildlife Service You Don't Know: What's For Dinner?

Today we bring you another in a series of short features about little-known aspects of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by David Klinger, a writer-editor at our National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

They claim it’s the mission.

That our admirable goal of conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of the globe (“for the continuing benefit of the American people”) accounts for the almost-maniacal devotion to duty that motivates most Fish and Wildlife Service employees.

But, as most of us know... it is really about the food.

Well before training center smorgasbords, decades before regional office clambakes and central office holiday spreads (graced, occasionally, with gustatory delicacies and delights contributed by field stations and the occasional congressional office, intent on promoting home-state agriculture, from salmon packing to peanut raising), food played a central role in the life of the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Reasons to Celebrate: The Refuge System's 109th Birthday

How do you mark a 109th birthday?  

In style.  

All the more so when the honoree is an American icon, respected the world-over as a conservation force and national treasure.   

Ducks in Flight, ChincoteagueDucks take off at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: Steve Hillebrand

The birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 14, 1903, ensured that our children and our children’s children will inherit an America that still has natural spaces and the wild creatures.


Endangered Species Spotlight: Coho Salmon

Started in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day sets aside the third Friday in May to recognize the importance of endangered species and is an occasion to educate the public on how to protect them. This year, Endangered Species Day falls on May 18th.  In the weeks leading up to Endangered Species Day, we'll be putting a spotlight on a few endangered and threatened species for you to learn more about what makes them unique. And there's still time to enter the Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest! The submission deadline is March 15.

Gordon Li Coho SalmonCoho Salmon by Gordon Li

The Coho salmon in the United States ranges from the central California coast to northern Alaska and weighs from 7 to 12 pounds. 


Endangered Species Spotlight: Swallow-Tailed Kite

Started in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day sets aside the third Friday in May to recognize the importance of endangered species and is an occasion to educate the public on how to protect them. This year, Endangered Species Day falls on May 18th.  In the weeks leading up to Endangered Species Day, we'll be putting a spotlight on a few endangered and threatened species for you to learn more about what makes them unique. And there's still time to enter the Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest!

Swallow Tailed KiteSwallow-Tail Kite in flight in Big Cypress, Florida.  Photo: Artur Pedziwilk, Creative Commons

Though not federally listed, the swallow-tailed kite is listed as endangered in the state of South Carolina, where the primary threat to its is habitat loss and pesticide use.


Photo Tour: Refuge Skies

What do we miss when we're looking down?  This photo tour is here to answer that question.  Enjoy these views of refuge skies, and if you'd like to see even more, head over to Flickr for the full set!

Snow Geese in FlightSnow geese and Ross' geese in flight at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California.  Photo: USFWS


Love All Around: Nature's Courtship Rituals

It’s just about Valentine’s Day! Looking to show your sweetie just how much you love him or her? Take a cue from wildlife, who often put on fascinating shows species put on to attract a mate. These colorful, noisy rituals can be seen firsthand at many national wildlife refuges.

Take the male Attwater’s praire chicken. He’ll dance a jig and make a “booming” sound by filling orange air sacks on the sides of his neck. The spectacle can be seen in March and April at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Its annual festival is April 8-9.

If you want some help converting the chicken's moves to human form, wildlife biologist Laurie Gonzales can help:

Or maybe you aren't a prairie chicken at heart. To the north, you can find the American woodcock, whose night “sky dance” can be seen in places like Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont or Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. The dance, which renowned author and conservationist Aldo Leopold loved, begins with a series of sharp “peent” sounds, until the bird suddenly flies up, twittering, in a widening spiral, floats briefly, and dives zigzag back to earth. 

Maybe you’re more of a greater sage-grouse. Every year, they gather in March and April on leks, or breeding grounds, where males gather to strut their stuff hoping to attract the attention of females.  The early-morning ritual involves popping and bubbling noises that can be heard hundreds of yards away. With their pointed tail feathers erect, and their white breast feathers accentuated by air sacs, they create a spectacular mating display.

Or how about the grey tree frog that inflates its vocal pouch to balloon-like proportions and sounds a melodic trill? University of Missouri researchers discovered the male can calibrate his love song to attract a mate with matching chromosomes! If you’re hoping to hear the song, head to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, or Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas in early April.

And then there are the horseshoe crabs, which come ashore in the thousands to spawn in May and June. The male horseshoe crab crowds along the water line, vying for arriving females. When the time is right, he will grab onto a mate and ride ashore. The female will dig a hole in the sand to deposit her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. Some great spots to check this out: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Horseshoe Crabs MatingMispillion Harbor, Deleware Photo: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Get Involved: Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest

Know any budding Picassos or Georgia O’Keeffes?

Tell them to grab their art supplies and enter the 2012 Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest! They’ll need to use their creativity to visually portray one or more land- and/or ocean-dwelling endangered species—animal or plant—found in the United States.

The contest is open to ­­­all K-12 students and entries must be postmarked by March 15, 2012.

A prestigious panel of artists, photographers, and conservationists will judge the entries. Winners will be chosen in four categories: K-Grade 2, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12, along with one overall national winner. Complete rules for the contest can be found on the Endangered Species Day website.

Some of last year’s semi-finalists include: 

Coho Salmon[Coho Salmon] by Gordon Li of California


Meet the Species: The ‘I‘iwi

Have you ever heard of the ‘i‘iwi?  If you’re from Hawai’i, chances are you have. 

It’s a bright, scarlet bird with black wings, and has a sickle-shaped bill that helps it sip nectar from long, tubular flowers.

i'i'wiPhoto: Jack Jeffrey/USFWS


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