TWS member Patrick Magee honored for ornithology work

By David Frey

Gunnison sage-grouse display on a western Colorado lek, where Patrick Magee, president of the Colorado Chapter of TWS, studies them. His work has earned him the Rich Levad Award from the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

As a wildlife biology professor and Thornton chair of biology at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Patrick Magee has dedicated a career to researching the birds around him and instilling a passion for wildlife in his students.

He credits his mother, who recently died, with awakening in him a love of the outdoors, and it’s a love he shares with his students on hikes across the Colorado plains, backpacking trips into the high country and rafting adventures through the desert.

“My main teaching philosophy is to do experiential, deep immersion and balance the physical, intellectual, sensual and spiritual into these field experiences,” Magee said. “It seems to work pretty well.”

Patrick Magee stands with Karen Levad after he received the award named for her husband, the Rich Levad Award, from the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. The president of the TWS Colorado Chapter, Magee is a professor at Western State Colorado University and the founder of Sisk-a-dee, a nonprofit that works to conserve the threatened Gunnison sage-grouse.

To honor his contributions, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has awarded him the Rich Levad Award, which recognizes individuals for their accomplishments in ornithology and the inspiration they have given others.

“It’s a huge honor to get an award in his name,” said Magee, who knew Levad personally and was touched by his humbleness and passion for wildlife.

Magee’s research has centered on the birds that live in western Colorado’s sagebrush and pinon-juniper habitats. He has contributed to the “Birds of North America” account for Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus), published on management research and guided student projects on birds in ecosystems including wetlands, sagebrush, Douglas-fir forests and piñon-juniper woodlands. The president of the Colorado Chapter of TWS, Magee has also been committed to conservation. In 2000, he founded Sisk-a-dee, a nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of the Gunnison sage-grouse, which is federally listed as threatened.

While Magee’s list of contributions is long, Marcella Fremgen, range ecologist for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, wrote in her letter nominating Magee, “I think that the thing that sets Pat apart from others is his enthusiasm and passion for birds and conservation.”

Through Sisk-a-dee, he has helped with lek counts, guided public lek tours and helped create the Waunita Watchable Wildlife Site, the only public viewing site for birders to see the Gunnison sage-grouse.

“It’s pretty cool,” Magee said. “This is the first bird that was defined as a new species in over 100 years in North America, so a lot of people — especially birders — are very enthusiastic. The sky starts to lighten up and they start to see these little white flashes on the landscape and they get very excited.”

He has contributed research on mechanical treatments on sagebrush habitats and on lek noise and sage-grouse disturbance. With the Gunnison Climate Work Group, he has helped plan for climate impacts on sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem.

Magee teaches field-based classes in ornithology, wildlife and ecology, giving his students a chance to meet professionals, attend conferences and events and work on service projects. He is also the founder and faculty advisor of the TWS student chapter at Western State.

“He has inspired many, many students over the years to pursue research and careers in these fields,” Fremgen wrote. “Not only has he inspired them, but Pat also provides tools and experiences that help the students actually achieve these goals.”