News & Resources

Faculty Profiles: Ken Petersen, Field Ecology of Birds

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Mar 10, 2015

A man with many talents, multiple roles and multitudes of duties at Bethel University (Minnesota) where he serves as Professor of Biology and Director of the Environmental Studies Program, Ken Petersen brings everything he is and has to his Au Sable course, Field Ecology of Birds (May Term, Great Lakes Campus). Moving from the general to the specific as his education progressed, Ken received his Bachelors’ degree in Biology from Dordt College (Iowa) before going on to earn a Master’s in Wildlife Biology and PhD in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University. A widely respected ornithologist, Ken’s research has been published in the leading bird journals in science, including Auk, Condor, Journal of Field Ornithology and Wilson Bulletin, and he is one of the nation’s leading experts on the ecology of Brewer’s sparrow, a sagebrush-dependent species that has suffered declines in some parts of the US intermountain west under programs converting sagebrush to grassland or other habitats. A man of extensive teaching experience and skill, Ken taught at his alma mater, Dordt College, before coming to Bethel University, as well as at Viterbo University (Wisconsin) and Monmouth College (Illinois), where he received Monmouth’s award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching. It takes a combination of great eyes and ears to teach a field ornithology course well, but Ken is among the best. One of his students, Deborah Cushman of Cornerstone University (Michigan), remembers the Field Ecology of Birds class at Au Sable vividly, noting, “Professor Petersen did not leave any room for a dull moment in class. During our breaks in between lectures someone in the group might bring up something fun or funny and everyone including Professor Petersen would be laughing. Professor Petersen knew what he was teaching well and had a strong love for the subject that was very evident as we worked through class material or were out birding…He did very well and had great patience with some of us who were slow at finding the birds that had been sighted.”

Despite the fact that spring is an ideal time for field work in ornithology, Ken returns to Au Sable each May term, a time of rich variety and animated behavior for birds in northern Michigan who are moving into the peak of their breeding season. Ken explains, “I find the allure of spring-time birds in the woods, fields, and wetlands of northern Michigan irresistible.  And helping young men and women to see them, hear them, and understand them is just icing on the cake.  I can think of few other creatures that so vividly display the glory of the Creator.”

Field Ecology of Birds is one of Au Sable’s best courses to see animal behavior and its complex ecologies at their best in the life of spring birds, and with one of the best instructors to bring meaning and understanding to the sometimes overwhelming variety of bird songs, activities and displays that accompany this time of year. Spring, birds and Ken Petersen come together each year at Au Sable to give students an exceptional educational experience.