Starker Leopold (1913-1983)
A wildlife biologist, Starker Leopold was well-respected for his contributions to the fields of wildlife conservation, education and public policy.
As a scholar and author of more than 100 scientific papers and five books, Starker was recognized for his ground-breaking research in the fields of ornithology and conservation as well as wildlife management. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and received many other awards including the Department of Interior Conservation Award, the Aldo Leopold Medal of The Wildlife Society, the Audubon Society Medal, the Browning Medal of the Smithsonian Institution, the Fellows Medal of the California Academy of Sciences, and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
He died at age 70 at his home in Berkeley, California, in August 1983.
by Carrie Nelson (Starker's niece)
Like his father and his younger siblings, Starker Leopold drew no boundaries between his personal and professional lives. An ornithologist and professor of zoology at UC Berkeley, Starker was usually dressed head to toe in field khakis or green Filson forestry cloth as though he might need to slip into the field at a moment’s notice. My parents, Luna and Barbara Leopold, lived a couple of miles from Starker and his wife Betty in the Berkeley California hills. As a resident of the urban San Francisco Bay Area, much of my winter-time access to the natural world came in the form of hunting trips with Starker and his two fine bird dogs Ding and Sake, or trips to UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Research Station near Tahoe where Starker was the Director. Sagehen is a teaching and research facility in freshwater fisheries including research of the ecology of Sagehen Creek basin: I recall Starker’s excitement in showing my brother and me the trout swimming behind the glass in the fish house which offers an eye-level view of an underwater segment of Sagehen Creek.
Starker was a consummate hunter and fisherman, author of the definitive texts “Wildlife of Mexico: The Game Birds and Mammals,” ” North American Game Birds and Mammals,” ” Wildlife in Alaska,” “The California Quail,” and over 100 scientific papers. Dinners at Starker’s house always featured some type of wild-harvested meat, which he grilled on his deck overlooking a small stand of California Live Oaks and a panoramic view of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. Starker’s hunting and fishing trips spanned the globe, and his return often warranted a fine dinner of moose steaks, antelope haunch, or his specialty, grilled pintail duck. (As Starker notes in his book Wildlife of Mexico, “Pintails are the fattest and perhaps the best eating of all the ducks.”) His favorite meal included grilled venison hearts, liver and kidney; savoring all of the wild harvest.
As the meat sizzled on the grill Starker would recount the recent activity of the Band Tailed Pigeons which he successfully lured to a feeder on his deck. Like his father and siblings, Starker viewed ownership of land, whether a small yard in the San Francisco Bay Area, a stretch of Wisconsin River floodplain, or an aspen covered hillslope in the Rockies, as an opportunity to create and preserve wildlife habitat. As he notes in his book The California Quail, “the creation of living space for a covey of California Quail would represent the gold standard of successful backyard management. What more pleasant sound could there be to awaken a jaded suburbanite than the morning call of the quail – ‘cu-ca-cow’?”
The consummate host, Starker made everyone feel at home in his presence. Conversations invariably came back to phenology, or conservation, or affection for and enjoyment of the natural world. Even in his interactions with influential world leaders, Starker was the legendary hunter and naturalist. As a member of the elite Bohemian Club in San Francisco, Starker was in charge of the venison roast at the famous Bohemian Grove encampments which drew US presidents, captains of industry, and international heads of state.
One summer Starker stopped by our Wyoming house on the New Fork River, and he immediately put up his bamboo fly rod and headed to the stream with a pocket full of hand-tied flies. The rod had been a gift from Luna, and it was a beauty. The Leopolds traditionally gave hand crafted Christmas gifts to a selected member of the family, and Luna had made the rod for Starker on one of these occasions. It was a graceful two-piece rod with an extra tip in case the original was damaged. Starker returned from fishing several hours later with an account of several brown and rainbow trout he had caught and released and a list of 25-30 birds he had heard but not seen, including a rare warbler.
Starker is appropriately remembered for his regional, national and global contributions to wildlife ecology and management, ornithology, and public conservation policy. He had a rare intellect and ability to build consensus among people with a wide range of interests and agendas. But it is his warm chuckle, boyish grin, and infectious delight in the natural world which come to mind each time I hear the yelp of a wild turkey or see a trout rise to a damsel fly.