for 35,000 Hours of Service
Refuge volunteer Carl Zenger, 81, was recently honored by Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, NY for devoting a record 35,000 volunteer hours to the refuge over the past 23 years.
As a refuge volunteer, the former General Motors engineer created an extensive cavity-bird nesting program, managed wildlife habitat, created opportunities for children, and built more nest boxes and bat, bird, and butterfly houses than anyone could count.
Zenger restored what was in 2001 a tiny purple martin colony into a behemoth with more than 180 cavities at 6 locations. In 2019, those cavities fledged 702 purple martins —an increase of 75 percent over the last 9 years.
As the head of the cavity nesting program, he designed a winch system for American kestrel boxes to ensure weekly nest checks could be performed safely. He also taught other volunteers how to age, sex and band eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, purple martins, great-crested flycatchers, eastern screech owls, American kestrels and prothonotary warblers. In 2019 his team of volunteers banded 1,307 birds, 99 percent of which fledged.
Zenger also helped with public outreach and interpretation. He developed an educational program called Take-a-Kid-Along, encouraging children to learn one-on-one about bird banding, bird identification, and marsh habitat exploration. He contributed to a University of Buffalo study on nest parasites of purple martins. He also earned certification as a tractor operator, backhoe operator and dozer operator so he could help with refuge habitat management projects including floodplain restoration via dike removal, trail development, private lands habitat restoration projects, and water control structure installation. He mowed some 3,800 acres to maintain refuge habit for ground-nesting birds and other species.
Thomas Roster, manager of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Complex, praised Zenger for his remarkable achievement. “For someone to provide this incredible number of hours, days and years of giving is just hard to imagine!” he said. “Carl's contribution goes way beyond a sum of hours; it means birds banded, habitats managed, facilities maintained, and kids educated.”