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WIU Professor in National Geographic Century Book

January 4, 2000

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MACOMB, IL -- Growing up in the Minnesota northern lakes area, Thomas C. Dunstan developed a reverence for nature, in particular the bald eagle.

It was there as a young boy he learned from his father to respect the nation's symbol of freedom, strength and courage that soared above him and nested atop the evergreens and pines. Years later, in the mid-1960s as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Dunstan had his first birds-eye view of nesting eagles from an airplane.

"They were incredible, and they were such underdogs. Flying over the great forests and lakes of Minnesota these magnificent lords and ladies of the air were headed for extinction, and I decided to accept that challenge to see what could be done to help them out," said Dunstan, a biology professor at Western Illinois University. "I began studying the biological sciences to discover the inner secret of the eagle's habits and needs."

Little did he imagine that one day National Geographic would include him in its "Eyewitness to the 20th Century" publication, a 400-page hard-bound volume that chronicles worldwide scientific and humanistic accomplishments and events of the 20th Century. There, on page 284 of the 1970-1979 decade review, Dunstan is recognized in the section "Rescuing the Eagle."

"I'm proud, but I'm also very humbled," Dunstan said. "It's especially exciting for me because my work with and for the bald eagle has been done during my tenure at Western, and I have been able to share the special moments with my students, my colleagues and friends of the University."

Dunstan said the recognition is even more meaningful to him because 1999 was the beginning of WIU's centennial year and was the same year in which a federal proposal to remove the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species was made.

"My more than 30 years of research, teaching and testifying have been very rewarding both professionally and personally," said Dunstan, who joined the WIU faculty in 1970, after completing his master's (1967) and doctorate (1970) at the University of South Dakota. He earned his bachelor's degree (1966) at the University of Minnesota - Duluth.

His insatiable desire to understand and help the eagle made Dunstan a national and international resource. He climbed the huge trees and sat quietly in the boughs, watching and photographing the birds of prey. He studied their needs for survival and documented a myriad of human-produced factors that were causing a spiraling decline in the eagle population, including the chemical contaminate DDT in their food supply, poaching and electrocution on power lines used as perches.

His research and photography have assisted in the development of the Cedar Glen Eagle Roost and wintering area at Lock and Dam 19 on the Mississippi River, the first and one of the largest official winter eagle sanctuaries in the U.S.; the Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Area in Idaho; and the Oak Valley Eagle Refuge in Illinois, which has since been renamed in honor of the late Elton Fawks, a nationally recognized eagle watcher and conservationist. Because of his expertise, Dunstan has been an adviser and consultant to numerous state and federal wildlife and conservation agencies.

The respected researcher appeared on two 1975 Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Shows hosted by Marlin Perkins; a 1975 national CBS Bicentennial television special titled "Eagle Come Home;" and the recent PBS bald eagle special "Flight For Survival," produced by Bill Kurtis Productions, Ltd. of Chicago.

Dunstan's original research on the bird he calls "symbols of all that's wild and free" was supported in part by the National Geographic Society, which has twice (February 1978 and June 1981) featured his work in its monthly journals. His research is also included in the 1993 National Geographic book, "Unlocking the Secrets of the Unknown," which chronicles the results of research grants awarded since the 1890s.

Throughout the years Dunstan has coupled his love for the eagle with his passion to educate not only society in general, but also his university students as well as future generations. In his latest teaching effort, an interactive CD-ROM presentation about bald eagles and their breeding and wintering life in the Mississippi Valley region, Dunstan encourages today's youth to be eyewitnesses to the 21st Century by "educating our young people about bald eagles and helping them to build an appreciation for the enrichment that wildlife provides in our lives."

Dunstan teamed with the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal life insurance society based in Rock Island, to create the "Surf the Nest" CD-ROM for America's school children, which debuted at the 1997 Quad City Bald Eagle Days. The CD-ROM is available free to schools.

For more information about the CD-ROM, contact Modern Woodmen at 309-786-6481, ext. 7330 or e-mail more information about eagles, contact Dunstan at (309) 298-1546 or 298-1752 or by e-mail to

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please feel free to contact Bonnie Barker, WIU University Relations, for assistance in reaching Tom Dunstan. Telephone 309-298-1993 or e-mail

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