Conserve Wildlife Blog

Women & Wildlife 2019 Education Award Honoree Giselle Chazotte Smisko

October 9th, 2019

A life-long interest in nature led Giselle Chazotte Smisko to pursue a B.S. in biology at Bucknell University with a focus on ecology and botany.  Upon graduating in 1979 she started working as a part-time naturalist for the Morris County Park Commission and realized she needed to learn more about fauna the public would want to see on the walks.  That brought her to Len and Diane Soucy who were rehabilitating wild birds. 

Over the next decade she worked with them as they founded The Raptor Trust, worked as a teacher-naturalist for Union County Parks Department and returned to work full-time for the Morris County Park Commission.  During that time, she obtained her bird banding permit and participated in research work on nesting barn owls, barred owls, kestrels, migrating raptors, and volunteered for New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species program assisting with their annual surveys of nesting ospreys.

In 1990 Giselle and her husband John founded the Avian Wildlife Center, a New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation to promote the conservation of native species.  The Center cares for approximately 700 birds annually — feeding nestling ruby-throated hummingbirds, rescuing great blue herons tangled in fishing line, mending raptors hit on the road, and many others with the goal of returning them healthy to the wild.  Seeing firsthand the challenges faced by wildlife, often due to human interaction, they work to reduce the negative impacts.  Giselle’s special knowledge and techniques to rehabilitate chimney swifts has prompted her to work toward preserving and establishing new nest sites in New Jersey to help this declining species.  She is collaborating with others to study the impact of lead toxicity in birds and increase awareness of this problem.

A vital part of the work of the Center is educating the public about the value of native wildlife and the need for conservation.  Giselle does this through formal presentations, demonstrations at various events, mentoring high school and college interns, as a scout merit badge counselor, and on a daily basis answering several thousand phone calls throughout the year.  Her programs are inspired by her experiences in studying and rescuing wildlife over four decades. 

She has volunteered for New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  She currently serves on the Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Committee for New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, as the President of Friends of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge and program chair for the refuge and the Sussex County Bird Club.  She received recognition from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019 for her work in wildlife conservation.

Join us to honor Giselle and the four other 2019 Women & Wildlife Award Honorees on Wednesday, November 13th at 6 PM. Purchase events tickets and find more information.

We asked Giselle a few questions about what inspires her to dedicate her career to New Jersey’s conservation:

Q: What is your favorite thing about your job? 

A: Gaining close insights to nature and getting to meet fellow nature-lovers and conservationists, people who share an appreciation of wildlife and want to help.  Sometimes it is the younger children that leave the biggest impression with me when they show their natural curiosity and a genuine concern for the animals.

Q: Name one thing you can’t live without.

A: Nature.

Q: Do you have a New Jersey wildlife species that you like best?

A: Not one favorite, but many–barred owls, chimney swifts, hummingbirds, hognose snakes, monarch butterflies … and not to forget a lot of wildflowers, too.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to change the world for wildlife?

A: Do it.

Q: What do you find most challenging about your profession?

A: Not having enough time to do everything I want to do.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working? 

A: Spending time with family, although they will testify that often involves them in helping with the work.  It is not unusual for us to make a stop on our way somewhere to pick up an injured bird.  Or plan a vacation in connection with surveying osprey nests.  Or go out for ice cream and survey calling amphibians.

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