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Chan Robbins 1918 - 2017

Ellen Paul

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Chan Robbins, whose legendary status in the ornithological and birding worlds was well-earned, passed away on 20 March 2017 at the age of 98. Robbins was born and raised in a Boston suburb. There, and at the Gloucester beaches, he watched birds with 3X opera glasses. He earned a degree in physics from Harvard in 1940. Ornithologist Ludlow Griscom was one of his advisors, and that influence may have played a role in Chan's turn to a career in ornithology. He joined the Civilian Public Service during World War II. Fate sent him to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in 1943 (then known as the Patuxent Research Refuge), where he worked on bird banding projects. Two years later, he became an employee of the USFWS and went on to develop the Breeding Bird Survey. 
This 2014 article from Audubon includes a wonderful video clip of Chan on a Christmas Bird Count at the age of 96! It was his 406th count!



Chan is also known for having banded "Wisdom" a Laysan Albatross - in 1956. She is still producing offspring at age 66, having last produced an egg in February 2017. 
In the mid-1940s, Robbins became coordinator of the continent-wide collection of bird migration records. These 90 years of records are now being digitized and transcribed as part of the North American Bird Phenology Program.
Robbins co-wrote Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification in 1966, more commonly known as the "Golden Guide" , which introduced innovative two-page spreads that integrated text, illustrations, range maps and silhouettes and a range of plumages. The Golden Guide also represented bird vocalizations with sonograms, two-dimensional graphs of frequency and amplitude over time.
Among Chan's many awards: 
Linnaean Society of New York's Eisenmann Medal
U.S. Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award
American Birding Association, Ludlow Griscom Award
American Ornithologists' Union (now the American Ornithological Society), Elliott Coues Award
National Audubon Society, Audubon Medal

Partners in Flight Lifetime Achievement Award
In 2000, the American Birding Association established the Chandler Robbins Award for significant contributions to birder education and/or bird conservation. The Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation (FUNDAECO) of Guatemala named the Chandler Robbins Biological Station, located in its Cerro San Gil reserve, in his honor.


Chan retired in 2005 but continued to work at the Bird Banding Lab on a regular basis. His colleagues at Patuxent created this web page dedicated to Chan. The slideshow is definitely worth watching. 


Selected publications[edit]

  • Robbins, Chandler S.; P. F. Springer; and C. G. Webster. 1951. "Effects of five-year DDT application on breeding bird population," Journal of Wildlife Management 15(2):213–216.
  • Stewart, R. E. and Chandler S. Robbins. 1958. Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia. North American Fauna No. 62. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Robbins, Chandler S.; Bertel Bruun; and Herbert S. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Golden Press, Inc., New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-307-13656-5.
  • Robbins, Chandler S. and W. T. Van Velzen. 1967. The Breeding Bird Survey, 1966. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Scientific Report—Wildlife No. 102.
  • Whitcomb, R. F.; Chandler S. Robbins; et al. 1981. "Effects of forest fragmentation on avifauna of the eastern deciduous forest." Pages 125–205 in R.L. Burgess and D.M. Sharpe, editors. Forest Island Dynamics in Man-Dominated LandscapesEcological Studies 41. Springer-Verlag, New York. ISBN 978-0-387-90584-6.
  • Robbins, Chandler S.; D.K. Dawson; and B.A. Dowell. 1989. Habitat Area Requirements of Breeding Forest Birds of the Middle Atlantic States. The Wildlife Society, Wildlife Monographs no. 103.
  • Robbins, Chandler S., senior editor; E. A. T. Blom, project coordinator; et al. 1996. Atlas of the breeding birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA. ISBN 978-0-8229-3923-8.
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  • 2 weeks later...

Ironic that the first day of spring 2017 was marked by the passing of one of the remarkable ornithologists in American history, Chandler Robbins.  It was my honor to work in the same building with Chan for 18 years at Patuxent, and even serve as his supervisor (to the extent anyone was!) for about a decade.   Chan’s devotion to his profession inspired colleagues, students, and amateur ornithologists all over the world.   He was the consummate gentleman and always had time to help those interested in birds, no matter their age or level of expertise.  He truly was a pioneer in the avian population monitoring arena.


R. Michael Erwin, PhD

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Senior Scientist Emeritus)

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  • 8 months later...

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