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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Samuel D. Robbins, Jr.

Sam Robbins was born on December 16, 1921 to Rosa Seymour Robbins and Samuel D. Robbins in Belmont, Massachusetts. Sam grew up to become a leading ornithologist for the state of Wisconsin.

Sam developed his interest in birds around age 10, motivated by his older brother Chandler, and encouraged by his parents. The Golden-winged warbler was the first bird vocalization he learned to identify. Sam was a regular listener to Thorton Burgess's radio show and participated in Burgess' competition in which Burgess whistled the songs of 25 bird species and asked listeners to send in the corresponding species names. Sam won the competition, as did his brothers Chandler and Roger.

Sam attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison where he completed a B.S. in Natural Sciences in the School of Education. While a sophomore in college, Sam was asked to participate in a preliminary checklist of Wisconsin birds. The checklist pocket booklet of which he contributed, Wisconsin Birds: A Checklist with Migration Graphs, later went through several revisions and publications. After college, Sam attended the Chicago Theological Seminary, and thereafter began his ministry in Neillsville, Wisconsin. He also obtained a Master's Degree in counseling from University of Wisconsin in 1968. Sam retired from the ministry in 1987, but continued to be involved with church activities until his death.

Sam's three loves were his family, his ministry and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO). Between 1946 and 1951, and again from 1960 to 1969, Sam served as WSO's Associate Editor for The Passenger Pigeon. He also served as editor from 1953 to 1969. One of his many accomplishments with the WSO was to expand the coverage of the Christmas Bird Count throughout the state. Sam proposed to the WSO board that they should begin a summer count of breeding birds, five years before his brother Chandler initiated the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The project began in 1961 and later became part of the Federal BBS. Because of Sam's level of knowledge and experience, he contributed extensively to the determination of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources list of endangered and threatened species.

Sam's dedication to the WSO lasted for 61-years, the longest anyone has devoted to the Society. His contribution to Wisconsin ornithology and years of field experience culminated in his crowning achievement, the 1991 publication of Wisconsin Birdlife.The publication is still considered one of the most comprehensive sources of information on the status and distribution of Wisconsin birds. Sam Robbins passed away on February 19, 2000, but will be remembered for his remarkable contribution to Wisconsin ornithology.

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