The World's Best Birdwatcher

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

It's a wonder that Pete Winter ever became a birdwatcher. As a young man, he spent a great deal of time hunting. Watching birds was extra. Now, Winter is perhaps the premier birdwatcher in the world. He is also an ardent conservationist, and a resident of St. Louis.

According to the American Birding Association, Winter is the world's topranked living birdwatcher. He has recorded the sightings of more than 7,700 bird species. Only the late Phoebe B. Snetsinger, also from St. Louis, had officially seen more bird species in the wild.

Winter also conducts a successful eastern bluebird restoration program on land he owns along the Meramec River in Franklin County. Through the Bluebirds Forever project, he has helped fledge nearly 10,000 bluebirds in Missouri. He is best known for his global birding accomplishments, but he is equally proud of his bluebird restoration success locally.

"I never intended to become a ranked birdwatcher," said Winter, 83. "For me, an interest that was born relatively late in my life simply continued to grow over the years until I was hopelessly hooked. While I have traveled the world to see birds and have wonderful memories, helping the Missouri state bird thrive is a lasting legacy."

The Bluebirds Forever project is the brainchild of Winter's brother-in-law, Bud Taylor, who has a home on Winter's 2,600-acre Roaring Spring Ranch near St. Clair. During the winter of 1994-95, after Winter had completed 165 of his more than 170 worldwide birding expeditions, Taylor asked Winter which bird he considered to be his favorite.

Winter's reply was immediate and enthusiastic. "The eastern bluebird! It's gentle, it's beautiful, and it has a wonderful song."

In response, Taylor announced, "Pete, I will try to raise them for you." The project began in 1995 when Winter and Taylor surveyed the ranch land for suitable bluebird house locations. Bob Winter, Pete's brother, began building the houses.

"We fledged 135 bluebirds that first year," Pete Winter said, "but because we had lost so many eggs to black snakes and raccoons, we considered the season to be a disaster."

Since then, Taylor--called "Buddy Bluebird" by his grandchildren--has solved the predator problem by covering every box post with a sheet of slick, polished aluminum. The 2000 nesting season alone saw 1,200 bluebirds fledged, along with 128 chickadees, 45 tree swallows and even 12 broods of flying squirrels.

More than 1,500 bluebirds were fledged in 2001.

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