“When you’re a young man, to admit that you like to watch birds is not cool,” said John Dorio, rural Girard.
But the retired U.S. Forest Service forest ranger and wildlife biologist quit worrying about that a long time ago. He’s now happy to admit that he not only watches birds — he’s seen more than 620 different bird species in the United States so far — and also bands them and conducts surveys and counts of them.
Dorio got off to a slow start with the birds. “I was born in Bayonne, N.J.,” he said. “The only birds we had were pigeons, starlings and house sparrows.”
He served three years in the military, then attended St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. “I saw other people who were also interested in birds, and one of my professors was a noted ornithologist who took students out on field trips,” Dorio said. “I began to associate birds with their habitats.”
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Dorio worked for the Nature Conservancy, a county park reserve and a national wildlife refuge before joining the federal Bureau of Land Management and then the U.S. Forest Service.
“My job in the Forest Service was to coordinate foresters’ needs with wildlife needs,” he said.
That wasn’t always easy. “Congress will say, ‘You will cut down this much wood this year, and here’s the money for it’,” Dorio said. “They were doing a lot of clear-cutting in those days, until the National Environmental Policy Act, which required that an environmental study be done before each project.”
He worked as a wildlife biologist at the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania and the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, and was a district ranger at the Chugach National Forest in Alaska. “I got sloshed by oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” he said. “I was cleaning up the federal land that I was responsible for.”
Just for fun, he and his wife, Peggy, who grew up in Franklin, spent one vacation visiting every birding station in Alaska, including St. Lawrence Island, which is only 38 miles from Russia. “Yes, you can see Russia from there on a clear day,” Dorio said. “The natives there speak the same language the Siberians speak.”
“We flew up to the North Slope oil fields and followed the oil pipe route down,” Mrs. Dorio said.
The couple moved to Green Valley, Ariz., in 1998 after he retired from the Forest Service. Though retired, Dorio continued working on two independent projects related to birds, including banding loggerhead shrikes at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He just recently completed that study, which took seven years.
Dorio has contributed surveys to the Breeding Bird Atlases of Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Page 2 of 2 - He and his wife moved to rural Girard two years ago. “One reason we came here was because we wanted to be nearer my mother-in-law, Marion Kobak,” Dorio said. “She’s still going strong in Franklin, doing a lot of volunteer work in the community.”
He plans to study the loggerhead shrikes of southeast Kansas, though they aren’t that common in this area.
“There is one living down the road,” Mrs. Dorio said.
Her husband describes these birds as “wanna-be” hawks who lack the talons necessary to be a true bird of prey. “They’ll catch grasshoppers or mice and impale them on barbed wire, then eat them,” Dorio said. “They’re also called butcher birds.”
He and his wife also enjoy watching the many birds that flock to the feeders they have around their property. “The goldfinches came in about a week ago,” Mrs. Dorio said.
They also have chickens, which naturally have attracted red-tailed hawks and other predators. “There’s a great horned owl in the woods,” Dorio said. “He sits there, looks at the chickens and just gets frustrated.”
As to why he likes watching birds, the reason is simple — because he can. “Raccoons, opossums, deer and other mammals usually just come out at night,” Dorio said. “You can see birds and you can hear them, too.”