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Mount Pleasant’s Steve Wilson is truly The Bird Man

Published: Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 11:17 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 1:37 p.m. CST

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Steve Wilson shined his bright LED cap-light around the edge of the Mount Pleasant pond. He could see where reeds were bent, a good hiding place for “Stormy,” the “broken-winged” goose. 

There Stormy was. 

Training the light on him, Steve knew the goose was blinded and wouldn’t move. Wearing hip boots, Steve waded into the shallow water and carefully picked Stormy up, holding him securely so he couldn’t flap.

He took Stormy to the people who had named him and who had called Steve to come and attempt a rescue. Stormy was so named because he was first seen during a storm, and was constantly being harassed by kids and dogs. 

Steve showed the people that Stormy’s wing wasn’t broken, but deformed by a developmental disorder called “Angel Wing,” where the tip of the folded wing turns out.  He also noted that Stormy was an Egyptian Goose, probably released by local people. 

There was nothing that could be done for the deformed wing now, but Steve agreed to take care of Stormy.

Around Southeast Iowa, Steve Wilson is known as “The Bird Man.”

A visit to Steve and Joy Wilson’s rural home near Oakland Mills is quite an adventure. Not only is Stormy well cared for, but also Amy, a Canada goose, and Buddy, a trumpeter swan.

Steve Wilson is a licensed game breeder. Buddy, the trumpeter swan, was part of Steve Wilson’s raise-and-release project, except that Buddy, the “odd man out,” refused to fly away. Buddy became infatuated with Steve’s wife, Joy, and views Steve as competition (I’m serious).

Consequently, Buddy drives Steve away from Joy — he’s a watchswan. Steve and Joy take Buddy to school demonstrations and wetland restoration talks. Buddy follows right along behind.

Amy, the Canada goose, was hatched, deformed, on their doorstep. She couldn’t walk. Joy taped Amy’s feet apart and made braces for her legs. Amy also follows them around the farm.

The grand sight at Wilson’s farm, however, is the pond behind their house. It is not a large pond, but in the winter the Wilsons feed thousands of migratory Canada geese, a hundred ducks, and three trumpeter swans. 

The flocks split time between feeding on corn at the pond, enjoying the open water, algae and grit below the spillway at Oakland Mills, and gathering waste grain from surrounding fields.

When Steve, 65, was a boy, there were no geese on the Skunk River at Oakland Mills, and trumpeter swans were extinct in Iowa. Steve got to work with friends and conservation officials to start raise-and-release programs, wetland restoration projects, and rebuilding habitat breeding pools. 

He founded the Sanctuary Wetlands Association, and has been a member of the Trumpeter Swan Society, and the International Wild Waterfowl Association, among others.

Steve and Joy have purchased some land for wildfowl sanctuaries, including a small lake that was formed from a DOT borrow pit — where soil was removed and used in highway construction. Steve has named it “Joy Lake” after his wife.

During the winter, the Skunk River at Oakland Mills is alive with ducks, geese and, yes, trumpeter swans. Eagles circle overhead and roost in trees along the river. This year, 10 trumpeter swans were regular visitors at Oakland Mills — nine adults and one grayling.

With severe cold temperatures, the ducks and geese huddle on the ice to conserve energy.

Steve Wilson’s purple truck can be seen traveling up and down the roads along waterways and feeding grounds in Southeast Iowa. Sometimes he sets on a hilltop and counts the flocks that fly overhead between Oakland Mills and his pond. 

On a busy day, he’ll count more than 2,000 birds. There’s nothing more beautiful than that, for The Bird Man — saving waterfowl one flock  at a time, or one bird at a time.

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mount Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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