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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 17, 2017

Dubuque girl is ‘really eager’ bird watcher

Apr 01, 2013

DUBUQUE (AP) — Olivia Kruse sat in a quiet observation area at the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center, gazing intently at the numerous bird feeders. With the bang-bang-bang pop of a firearm, she rapidly named the various species clamoring for food.

The 11-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School student is a bird-watching prodigy. Besides her father Craig, Olivia's inspiration is the 2011 comedy movie "The Big Year" starring Steve Martin. A "big year" is an informal competition among birders to see who can see the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area.

The Telegraph Herald reports that in her inaugural "big year," Olivia logged 157 species around Dubuque County. In her second, which began Jan. 1, she's up to more than 80 species in a variety of locations.

"I like to go places I've never been before and see new things," Olivia said.

Dubuque Audubon Society vice president Joe Tollari calls Olivia "a really eager" bird watcher who is active in the organization and attends board meetings with Craig. Olivia also contributes to the society's "Pileated Drummings" newsletter.

For the Kruse family, it's like father, like daughter. Craig recalled as a youngster visits with his grandfather; the two would watch birds. Craig's father was an avid angler; the Mississippi River was a staple for family outings.

"I think Olivia naturally got into (the outdoors)," Craig said.

At age 5, Olivia began helping fill the family's bird feeders, and from there she kept track of what she saw. On their outdoor treks, Craig and Olivia each carry a pair of binoculars. There's a copy of a Peterson Field Guide to Birds always in hand.

"We'll get in a car and start driving," Craig said. "We don't really have to have a destination. It's fun to get out at 10 degrees when you can't find the sun and 90 degrees when you don't want to find the sun."

Craig calls his daughter a "go-getter."

"We'll have the alarm set for 4:30 a.m., and she's dressed before I'm even moving," he said. "I think she likes to challenge herself."

Wayne Buchholtz, Dubuque Audubon Society president, is impressed with Olivia.

"Not many people her age enjoy nature the way she does," he said. "Most are sitting in front of a computer or game board of some kind. I wish more people her age and all ages enjoyed and thought of nature in the way that she has and continues to do. I find it very rewarding to see a young person take passion in not only looking at birds, but wanting to see as many as she can in a year, want to know more about each bird and where they live, and want to find out how she can help in making their environments better."

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contributed $36 billion to the economy in 2006, and one fifth (20 percent) of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers. Tollari thinks both numbers have increased for the relatively inexpensive hobby.

"The best part is you don't have to know anything to start," said Craig. "All you need is binoculars and a field guide. It costs what you want it to cost."

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