Someone to Know: Ron Skleney

Willowbrook Wildlife Center Naturalist Ron Skleney is a nature enthusiast with a passion for the outdoors, wildlife and volunteering. Before he joined our team as a naturalist who heads up our Willowbrook raptor program, leads bird walks or even shapes children's learning about animal adaptations, he completed coursework on the environment and served as a volunteer at a local zoo. Today, he shares his birding know-how and wildlife knowledge not only at Willowbrook but also as a member of our "Wild Things" team on WDCB radio. 

What do you do at the Forest Preserve District? How do you see that role support the District?
I have been a full-time naturalist at Willowbrook Wildlife Center since 2004. Willowbrook Wildlife Center has been helping injured and orphaned wild animals since 1956 and serves a vital role in educating DuPage County residents regarding the wild animals that we share with natural areas. 

To date, what has been the best (or most interesting) part of your job at the Forest Preserve District?
The best part of my job is seeing smiles at the end of a presentation that has gone well. Living in such hectic times in an urbanized area, many people don’t have the opportunities to experience nature on a regular basis. It’s a great privilege for me to engage young and old alike and share DuPage County’s natural treasures.

What did you study in college? How do you use that knowledge in your career?
I returned to Northeastern Illinois University in my 40s to earn my degree in environmental studies. Returning to college as an older student was a great benefit to me. My gen eds were already out of the way and I could really focus on the classes that would help me in my career. Additionally, my previous volunteer experience and naturalist certificate classes gave me a solid foundation for me to get the most out of my college classes

What experience do you bring to your position with the District?
The two experiences that have helped me the most in preparing me for my role as a Willowbrook naturalist were 11 years as a Brookfield Zoo docent and participating in the Morton Arboretum’s naturalist nertificate program.

The Brookfield Zoo docent training gave me the confidence and opportunities to hone my speaking and interpretation skills. Without this excellent training, I would have never felt comfortable standing up and presenting or teaching.

Participating in the Morton Arboretum’s naturalist certificate program was the most valuable experience in that it exposed me to our local ecology and natural history. The comprehensive curriculum in plants, wildlife and ecosystems gave me an excellent foundation for my job as a naturalist. It’s not surprising considering that many of the classes were taught by Forest Preserve District of DuPage County employees. I’m honored today to call many of my former naturalist certificate instructors my current colleagues.

What is your favorite preserve?
My favorite preserve is Songbird Slough. It’s one of the largest in the northeast corner of the county but one of the least visited. I love to go there in summer to enjoy the grassland birds.

What do you like to do in your time away from work?
I love to go birdwatching and I also volunteer for the Forest Preserve District as a breeding bird monitor. We are fortunate that we have such a great diversity of birds in DuPage County.

How do you make a difference in DuPage County?
By sharing my knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural world, I have an opportunity to positively influence others. A quick example are two “fledgling” birders (sorry for the pun) who joined me on bird walks a few years ago. Since then they have gone on to become two of the top birders in the county and valued District volunteers. 

Naturalist Ron Skleney talks about the great-horned owl Tonka on the trail.
Naturalist Skleney works a net along the shore during a recent kids camp.

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Someone to Know

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