Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

State DNR Recognizes Longtime Bird Advocate

Written by Judith Siers-Poisson

Cutright Is Honored On 'Larry Meiller Show'

Editor's Note: Listeners to "The Larry Meiller Show" have likely heard Bill Volkert and Noel Cutright share their love and knowledge of birds on the program many times. Volkert is a naturalist and a retired Wildlife Educator at Horicon Marsh International Education Center, and Cutright is past president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Many longtime listeners often share that it just isn’t a holiday if Noel and Bill aren’t on the Ideas Network to talk about migrations, sightings, feeding tips, and the many fascinating and unexpected ways that birds behave.


Noel Cutright (center) receives an award for his service to Wisconsin's birds from DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede (right), whicle Larry Meiller looks on. Photo by Judith Siers-Poisson

Those who tuned into Tuesday’s program might have found themselves checking the calendar since guests Bill Volkert and Noel Cutright joined host Larry Meiller for a non-holiday program to talk about fall bird migration. But, it was particularly special appearance because while they are usually on by phone, this time they came to Madison to do the show in the studio.

One of their goals is always to help people get started in birding or to improve their skills. An important aspect is to know where to go and when to observe birds at a given time of year. The fall migration is currently well-underway, and Volkert had some great recommendations for where to see specific species. Wherever you are in the state, there are great opportunities, he said.

Some of the locations that he suggested are:

  • The Mississippi River for ducks, swans, hawks and eagles
  • Sandhill WA and Central Wisconsin for sandhill cranes
  • Lake Superior for gulls, jaegers, waterfowl and hawks
  • Horicon Marsh for ducks, Canada geese, cranes
  • Lake Michigan for ducks, gulls and uncommon waterbirds

But the highlight of the program was when staffers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources surprised Cutright with an award for his many years of service to the state’s birds.

A native of southern Ohio, Cutright has lived for 35 years in rural Ozaukee County near the Cedarburg Bog with wife Kate, who is also a naturalist. His Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees focused more on plants, but his Ph.D. in wildlife science from Cornell University included studying flocking and roosting behavior of red-winged blackbirds, and he has been specializing in birds and bird behavior ever since.

Cutright’s accomplishments are numerous, but Sumner Matteson, avian biologist with the DNR, compiled this list:

  • Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, We Energies, for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 2006.
  • Founder of the Riveredge Bird Club in 1986
  • Past president (twice) of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO)
  • Historian, WSO
  • One of the leaders in establishing the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative
  • Helped promote the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas and served on the Atlas Steering Committee
  • Senior editor, Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Wisconsin, published in 2006
  • Currently serving on Steering Committee for a second Wisconsin Breeding Birds Atlas
  • Helped launch the Milwaukee County Avian Migration Monitoring Partnership, which won a 2007 WDNR Citizen-based Monitoring Award
  • Received the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award for Citizen-based Monitoring from WDNR for 30+ years of applying monitoring results to conservation actions. Whether it's supporting efforts to install Osprey platforms, reintroduce Trumpeter Swans, erect Peregrine Falcon nest boxes, create bluebird trails, establish State Natural Areas or important reserves in Belize, Noel has been active in a number of important conservation campaigns.
  • Tirelessly promoted and participated in the Federal Breeding Bird Survey for 40+ years. This culminated in a Quad 30 campaign in 2004 in which he raised >$50,000 for the state’s Important Bird Areas program by running 33 consecutive Breeding Bird Survey routes in 33 days!
  • Organized and participated in hundreds of Christmas Bird Counts over the decades and served as the Wisconsin coordinator for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
  • Received prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gathering Waters Conservancy in 2010.
  • Received the Silver Passenger Pigeon, Green Passenger Pigeon, and Sam Robbins’ Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and the 1st  Annual Lorrie Otto Memorial Award from Milwaukee Audubon in 2011.
  • Long-time advisor to WDNR and FWS on the ecology and management of Wisconsin’s breeding birds.
  • Instrumental in creation of Bird City Wisconsin and serves on its Steering Committee
  • Instrumental in promoting migratory bird conservation and founded the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, with headquarters at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in Ozaukee County

In presenting a plaque to Cutright, DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede said, “You’ve done and given so much in the world of bird conservation here.” He added, “In recognition of your outstanding service, leadership and passion for conserving Wisconsin’s bird populations and their habitats … we wanted to present you with this plaque of our appreciation.”

When Thiede presented Cutright with the plaque, adorned with a photo of his favorite bird, a Kentucky warbler, Cutright said, “I’ve got a lump in my throat and goosebumps on my legs. This really does mean a lot.”

Volkert added to the accolades as well. “The people of Wisconsin are certainly so much better informed about birds because of the work that Noel has done. And I have to say that I believe that the birds of Wisconsin are better off because of his contributions to both education of our wildlife resources and certainly the conservation of birds and their habitats in the state. He’s really made a mark on this state, and for that, all the bird watchers, the bird lovers and the birds themselves are thankful for all Noel has done for us."

Listener Ryan Brady said on Facebook that “Noel and Bill are truly incomparable. And special congrats to Noel for his well-deserved recognition from WDNR.” Listener Connie Hartman agreed. She said on Facebook, “Always enjoy Noel and Bill - happy to hear of Noel's recognition. Congrats!”

And after the show, listener James Taylor emailed to say “Wisconsin is applauding right now. Well done, Noel.” We couldn't have said it better ourselves.