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Charles A. “Zig” Ziegenfus receives the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s 2023 Mitchell A. Byrd Award

photo provided by Charles A. “Zig” Ziegenfus

The Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO) is pleased to announce that Charles A. “Zig” Ziegenfus, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, is the distinguished recipient of the 2023 Mitchell A. Byrd Award for exceptional academic achievement in ornithology.

Zig’s work in ornithology and bird conservation has spanned more than 50 years and has run the gamut. Dan Cristol, Chancellor Professor of Biology at William and Mary, nominated Zig and has known him since 1987. Dan praised him as a mentor and as a “major contributor to the seminal research on reproductive biology and evolution of [Dark-eyed Juncos] that was carried out by Ellen Ketterson and Val Nolan of Indiana University at Mountain Lake Biological Station.” Supporting this nomination were letters from Elizabeth Ihle, long-time VSO and Rockingham Bird Club member; Diane Lepkowski, long-time friend, Rockingham Bird Club Vice President, and current VSO Vice President; and Clair Mellinger, Professor Emeritus of Eastern Mennonite University, and bander of Saw-whet Owls at Highland Retreat Camp.

From Zig’s field research with juncos at Mountain Lake, to teaching a popular ornithology class at James Madison University, and as a founding member of the Rockingham Bird Club in 1974, Zig was tireless in those efforts. A true educator, he promoted bird conservation, helping anyone who was interested in doing the same. He installed and maintained countless nest boxes benefiting bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and kestrels. Zig assisted Dr. John Spahr and Patti Reum with the VSO’s American Kestrel conservation project in Highland county.

Volunteering at banding stations including Dolly Sods in West Virginia and Highland Retreat Camp in Rockingham County for Saw-whet Owls, Zig also operated a banding station on a Rockingham County farm and banded wintering sparrows on several other private properties. He was always on hand for local bird counts, including the Rockingham Christmas Bird Count since the 1970’s, and he ran several breeding bird survey routes over the years.

Zig’s encouragement, his effort, and his generosity in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm has been a gift beyond words to birders in the Shenandoah Valley and across the Commonwealth. He inspired many of his JMU students to pursue ornithological or conservation-related careers or to embrace birding as an avocation. A long-time VSO Life member, Zig often took students to the VSO’s February Outer Banks field trips.

As Dan Cristol wrote, after detailing personal recollections and Zig’s many achievements: “And the amazing thing is that he was a math professor and an electrician first, and all of these contributions to science, bird conservation, and ornithological education were not even his ‘day job.'”

Prepared by Diane Lepkowski, Vice President, VSO, and Patti Reum, Conservation Chair, VSO