Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Waterfowl Research Center Named to Honor Bellrose

The Waterfowl Research Laboratory of INHS' Forbes Biological Station near Havana was officially named the Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center during a May 29 reception at Dickson Mounds Museum. The research center will now be recognized for Bellrose's storied career that spans almost 60 years at the station.

Frank C. Bellrose was born in Ottawa, Illinois, on the Illinois River, where he derived his lifelong interest in waterfowl and wetlands. He received his B.S. degree in zoology from the University of Illinois and began working for the Illinois Natural History Survey in 1938. His research included studies on the migration and orientation of waterfowl; dynamics of waterfowl populations; life history, ecology, and management of the wood duck; ecology of aquatic and marsh plants; and ecology of the Illinois River.

Bellrose began a study of wood duck nesting in the late 1930s. Eventually he would develop predator-proof nest boxes. Indeed, the breeding biology, population dynamics of wood ducks, and evaluations of various types of nesting houses became a career-long project for Bellrose. He began a study of the ecology of aquatic, marsh, and moist-soil plants in the bottomland lakes of the Illinois River valley in the summer of 1938 and continued it periodically for more than 40 years. Through this long-term study, the detrimental effects of sedimentation upon the lakes of the Illinois Valley became apparent.

The surveying of waterfowl in the Illinois River valley from the ground with binoculars or spotting scopes was also initiated in 1938. Bellrose began using light aircraft in 1946, and the time required for a comprehensive inventory was greatly reduced while the area covered was noticeably expanded. Waterfowl data derived from these ground and aerial estimates were incorporated into numerous studies. The aerial inventory of waterfowl continues to be an important part of INHS waterfowl research.

The pioneering work on lead poisoning as a mortality factor among waterfowl was one of Bellrose's most important contributions and a major factor in the gradual replacement of lead with nontoxic shot.

Bellrose's world-renowned book Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America was published in 1976 and has sold more than 350,000 copies. His latest book, Ecology and Management of the Wood Duck, was published in April 1994. Both of these classics received The Wildlife Society's Publication of the Year Award. Bellrose has published more than 110 scientific and popular articles. His name is virtually synonymous with "ducks."

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Frank Bellrose (left) and Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Brent Manning at May reception in Bellrose's honor.

In recognition of his long and productive career, Western Illinois University, Macomb, awarded Bellrose an honorary Doctor of Science degree in June 1974, as did McMurray College, Jacksonville, in 1995. He received the Aldo Leopold Award, the most prestigious award presented by The Wildlife Society, in 1985. February 1, 1988, was declared "Frank Bellrose Day" in Illinois by Governor James Thompson upon Bellrose's semi-retirement from the Survey. The Alexander-Griswald Marsh, Manitoba, was dedicated to him by the Illinois state organization of Ducks Unlimited in 1982. In 1992, the Illinois Department of Conservation dedicated its Cache River Wetlands Project, which includes the Frank Bellrose Waterfowl Reserve.

His lifelong dedication to waterfowl research has set a high standard. The naming of the Waterfowl Research Laboratory in his honor recognizes the important contribution of Bellrose's work to waterfowl biology and management throughout the world and properly recognizes the Illinois River, where he spent his entire life and professional career.

The Illinois Conservation Foundation is assisting the Waterfowl Research Center in establishing a long-term financial support program. The foundation has set a goal of raising $2 million as a permanent endowment to support the Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center. The $2 million endowment will permit the center to continue its high-quality research on waterfowl and wetlands in the state. Interest income generated from the principal will be used to support research studies while allowing for continued growth of the principal investment. Contributors to the center will be permanently recognized on a donor plaque to be placed at the facility. Funds contributed to the foundation are tax-exempt to the fullest extent of the law since the foundation is an IRS 501 (C)(3) approved organization.

For more information on the endowment, contact John Schmitt, Executive Director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation, at (312)814-7237 or (217)785-2003.

Stephen P. Havera, Center for Wildlife Ecology



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