Avian Connections at public library Jan. 17

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Avian Connections Katie Isben and her education ambassadors will present two programs at the Guttenberg Public Library on Jan. 17. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Avian Connections of Prairie du Chien, Wis., is set to present two raptor programs at the Guttenberg Public Library on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 and 3:00 p.m. in the main library. "We are offering two time slots for this popular program, so everyone gets a chance to attend," said librarian Katey Simon. 

Founder Katie Isben

Katie Isben, and her husband, Trevor Hamdorf, founded Avian Connections in 2021. Katie has a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources from UW-Stevens Point, with a concentration in Wildlife Education. She gained experience through organizations such as the World Bird Sanctuary, Iowa Raptor Project, and the Raptor Education Group (REGI). "At these centers, my job was to educate the public on the resident birds, which included some amazing facts along with why these birds are in captivity. The birds all had injuries and could not survive in the wild, so they became education ambassadors," Katie explained. 

Lifelong passion

A deep sense of compassion and love for all animals at a young age inspired Katie to become more involved with the preservation of endangered species. "I always wanted to learn the 'whys' of nature. In grade school, I remember learning about endangered species and how most animals are endangered because of humans," she commented.

One experience in particular inspired Katie. "I remember walking into the grocery store with my mom when I was about seven years old," she began. "I noticed a medium-sized bird on its back, gasping for air. It had collided with a window right outside of the doors. This bird was beautiful, and one I had never seen before. I felt sad and helpless."

Katie later learned the bird was a black-billed cuckoo likely returning from overwintering in South America.  "As a kid, it broke my heart to know that the bird would not be returning home with its family. As an adult, it breaks my heart to know that this was one less breeding adult to contribute to a declining population. All because of a window," she sadly reported. 

Katie's husband is employed with the DNR and was transferred to Prairie du Chien in 2020. She discovered there were no job opportunities in her field, but still yearned for a connection to nature. "I decided to take a leap and start my own conservation education organization in order to fulfill my passion," she reported.

Wildlife Rehabilitator 

Katie had the experience and skills that were needed to obtain her State and Federal permits, which allowed her to obtain native birds that are all protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. "Yes, it is illegal to keep any wild bird as a pet unless you have special permits," she pointed out.  "So, all of those baby robins you raised as a kid? That is against the law! That is exactly why Wildlife Rehabilitators exist – they are trained and permitted to rescue wildlife so that they can be released without being further damaged."

Interactive program

Katie will be bringing two live birds with her the day of the program. She calls her birds her education ambassadors. Their role is to assist her in teaching and showing the public some of their amazing adaptations and how these birds survive in the wild.

Avian Connections programs are structured with enthusiasm, fun facts, props and conservation messages. Katie will discuss how her birds were rescued and why they cannot be released. "My goal is to bring smiles to people’s faces and help form a connection between humans and wildlife. I want to challenge people’s mind-set and provide them with tools to easily help wildlife and bring nature back into our yards," she told The Press.  

Ways to help

Avian Connections is still a small organization and does not have any volunteer opportunities. "However, if someone has a special interest in wildlife or animal husbandry, we invite him or her to contact us," she added. 

The organization is always in need of food donations. Fish, squirrels, rabbits, and deer hearts are always a favorite for their birds. It is important to note, these animals cannot have any traces of lead ammunition. "If you are interested in donating food, please reach out to us!" she said enthusiastically. 

Avian Connections has not yet obtained status as a non-profit organization. "This line of work is my passion and I would love to be able to do this full-time; which we are honestly very far from," said Katie. "We are solely funded on program funds and donations and are always in need of both. Our goal is to be financially stable so we can obtain more birds to provide a wide variety of programs."

For additional information contact avianconnections.education@gmail.com, or 319-331-4869, or find the on Facebook.

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