Sagebrush Sea: the birds of America’s unique shrubland

The Big not-so Empty or the Sagebrush Sea

What is field biology? How do scientists collect data on birds? Why should I care about the Sagebrush Sea? How is the sagebrush in Idaho doing? If you have ever asked yourself these questions, you may be interested in the Hagerman Bird Festival keynote speech about science in the sage and issues facing Idaho’s sagebrush sea. Locals often call the Sagebrush Sea “The Big Empty.”

Hilary spent three months working in the sagebrush on the Jonah Natural Gas Field of western Wyoming and lives in Idaho Falls where she is surrounded by sagebrush steppe. As a nest searcher who fell in love with the sagebrush ecosystem, she can’t wait to share the wonders of the “big empty” with you. During her presentation, she will introduce us to the methods used to collect scientific data on breeding birds and give us a visual tour of the Sagebrush Sea and its many spectacles. Be prepared for lots of photos of sagebrush obligate species and their stunning habitat! Hilary will also discuss the sagebrush ecosystems in southern Idaho and some of the issues those systems are facing.

Hilary Turner grew up in Helena, MT with an intense passion for natural history, especially birds. She graduated with a BS in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana in 2016. Hilary has a variety of work experience in field biology. She did a stint in Louisiana at a National Wildlife Refuge and surveyed for Flammulated Owls on the Helena National Forest in central Montana. During her undergraduate career, she worked as a nest searcher and video analyst in Dr. Tom Martin’s lab. Immediately upon graduating, she became employed by the Rim Rick Wind Energy Facility as a raptor monitor. She worked at a Golden Eagle migration survey in Montana during the Fall of 2017. She now works as for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as the Road Ecology Wildlife Technician. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying the sagebrush sea of southeast Idaho with her boyfriend and their dog. Please join us on May 18 th to hear more about the Sagebrush Sea!


Leslie Schwindt

Leslie has been working with animals for over 22 years, specializing in wildlife for 6. She holds permits through the Fish & Game and Federal Permits through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. She rehabilitates and works with an average of 120 birds per year. She is a passionate educator and advocate for birds of prey in southeastern Idaho and surrounding regions.

Understanding the Struggles of Barn Owls and How to Utilize them to Help Manage Rodents in Idaho

New faculty portraits College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

By Jason Thomas and Leslie Schwindt

Barn Owls are a native bird to Idaho that have had to deal with a lot of problems. Learn about the struggles of barn owls in Idaho by meeting Junior, a rehabilitated barn owl.  Learn how farmers, landowners and everyday citizens can help mitigate some of these problems.  By supporting barn owls they may be able to help reduce rodent populations in Idaho creating a win for the environment, farmers and barn owls.

Though these birds are important hunters of rodents, their nesting options are limited in Idaho. By building and deploying boxes, research suggests that barn owls can be attracted and utilized to help control voles. Learn more about these amazing  birds and how they might be utilized more in agricultural settings that benefits both farmers and birds.

Jason Thomas

New faculty portraits College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Born and raised in Malad, Idaho, Jason Thomas is a passionate instructional designer, educator and scientist who enjoys the thrill of helping improve people’s lives by teaching them about insects, pest management and wildlife. He has worked at Texas A&M and Purdue University to develop multiple educational programs including the Insect Hunter YouTube channel. His master’s is in entomology with an emphasis in outreach education.

Hilary Turner

What got Hilary Turner into birding?

My dad took me to Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge (near Great Falls, Montana) in May when I was about 11 years old. I saw the vast diversity in shapes and sizes of the birds, all their bright colors and beautiful plumages, and I saw my dad calling each one by name. I wanted that knowledge for myself. I particularly remember the beauty of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets. I couldn’t believe such creatures even existed! Ever since then, I’ve been a bird nut! I went on to get a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana and have now pursued birds in my career, as well as in my hobbies.  

Southeast Idaho has some very interesting habitat and I have loved living in this region for the past two years due to the excellent birding. My favorite spots to bird in southeast Idaho are Market Lake Wildlife Management Area and Camas National Wildlife Refuge for migrant songbirds in the spring and fall. These spots are great for finding rarities during migration!  In fall of 2017, I located a Great Crested Flycatcher at Camas National Wildlife Refuge, which was the first state record for that species in Idaho. Another of my favorite spots to bird is the Bureau of Land Management-operated Cress Creek Nature Trail, which consists of juniper foothills where you can find Juniper Titmouse year round and in the summer, Black-throated Gray-warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Gray Flycatchers.

Hilary Turner is a 5th generation Montanan who now resides in Idaho Falls. She is a birder and naturalist who was educated at the University of Montana, receiving a BS in Wildlife Biology in 2016. She works as a road ecology wildlife technician for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the spectacular sagebrush steppe and stunning marshes of eastern Idaho.

Since moving to Idaho, Hilary has fallen in love with the sagebrush. In her presentation, Hilary hopes to impart the biological and aesthetic importance of sagebrush steppe habitat. She will discuss sagebrush obligates – the several birds and other species that depend on sagebrush. And she will explore the habitat and landscapes that these unique creatures live in.

Please come enjoy a visual adventure through the sagebrush sea of southern Idaho.