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Some of the nice things people had to say about Chan

Celebration of Life and Contributions of Chandler Robbins - June 23, 2017

I first met Chan Robbins at the Annual MOS Convention at the Hastings Miramar Hotel in Ocean City, Maryland in May 1963. Chan was indefatigable in making this big bird-meeting hum. He was everywhere, doing everything. I think it was on that same trip that we visited Chan at his Operation Recovery banding station in the piney woods not far from Ocean City—I think on Assateague Island. It was the first time I saw mist nets in operation.

I next saw Chan at the MOS Junior Nature Camp—probably in 1965. Again, Chan and his team were instrumental in making the three-day Camp a success. He demonstrated how to operate mist-nets and led bird-walks for the kids, and much more—for a bunch of nature-loving children.

It was probably 1968 when I did my first Breeding Bird Survey at Chan’s behest, near Emmitsburg, Maryland. I recall getting a letter from his office later, gently querying our report of a Purple Finch, and suggesting we might have misidentified the song of a Warbling Vireo (he was correct!).

In January 1969, my mother and I joined an MOS Montgomery County Chapter bird trip to the Delmarva coast, led by Chan. Highlight was Chan showing us an Ipswich Sparrow in the dunes of Cape Henlopen, Delaware. I recall us dining at the City Lunch cafeteria in Ocean City.

It may have been December of 1969 when I joined Chan on a Christmas Bird Count on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. We stayed at Irish Grove Sanctuary. I recall Chan was the first up in the morning, rising long before first light and awakening us all for some for some pre-dawn owling.

 I’ll never forget seeing for the first time Chan cupping his hands behind his ears to increase his hearing acuity. This was in the Pocomoke Swamp in May 1963. He used his ears like radar, identifying and calling out the various wood warbler songs he was hearing in this rich patch of woods—Worm-eating, Parula, Swainson’s, and more. It was enthralling to see him doing his thing in the field. And inspirational! We all wanted to be like Chan.

What I recall, most of all, was his gentle demeanor, the close relationship he had with his wife and children,  and his natural abilities as a teacher. His burning passion for birds never got in the way of those values that make the world a better place.

Bruce Beehler

Chan was the last of the great ornithologists and had a wonderful life with marvelous contributions to ornithology. I remember him from the 1940's and 1950's while my family lived at Patuxent. He was a dedicated person who brought new ideas and concepts to the field. I was with him on a birding tour of the Patuxent Refuge bottomlands in the late 1940's when he heard a rare bird.

He immediately threw himself on his back so he could see high into the forest with his binoculars. Unfortunately I don't recall what species it was. I also recall the collaboration with my father Robert Stewart Sr as they worked on Birds of Maryland together.
More recently I invited Chan to join us at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, LA to talk about the status of bird populations migrating across the Gulf of Mexico. He gave a fantastic presentation!! I shall miss him and his annual letter about his adventures birding.

Bob Stewart Jr

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)

One of the greatest weeks of our entire life was the last week of July 1966.  David Lack was the nominal host of the International Congress of Ornithology at Oxford University. We were billeted in Jesus College, one of the oldest residences. We were given all five rooms in an entire stairway each above the other, in Jesus College, one of the oldest residences.  Mary and I shared a double bed in the top room of that stairway.  Mary’s sister, Margaret Belcher, corresponding secretary of the Saskatchewan Natural History Society, accompanied us and shared the second-from-top  room with our daughter, Margaret, about to turn sixteen the next month, Stan, turning 17, had a single room to himself, on the third level from the top.  Dave and Don, aged 13 and 11, had the bottom floor.

A book about a different occasion at Oxford told the story of a visiting family from the USA. The six-year-old son, standing on the grass below the residence building of Jesus College, noticed an occupant’s  movements in a third floor window and shouted out:  "Gee, Mom, these ruins are inhabited.”

Exciting for us was the presence of the Chan Robbins family, also filling five rooms on another stairway. In at least one meal in Jesus College the Houston crew and the Robbins crew were interspersed.  All seven of our party attended every lecture.  All seven of us spent some time with the attractive and vivacious Frances Hamerstrom, who showed off her tanned back in a nearly backless dress in spite of at the cool outdoors at the tea hosted by the world-famous Oxford University library.

At Oxford, Chan and Eleanor Robbins took the Houstons under their wing, so to speak.  Following the conference at Oxford, we took the great but long all-day bus trip to Slimbridge where Sir Peter Scott greeted a hundred or more of us for a talk and a tour of his great waterfowl breeding facility

For decades after our friendship formed at Jesus College, Chan would research for me, such as raptor data from raptors on the northern Great Plains and banding and recovery data from Saskatchewan.  Many years later I represented private banders in western Canada at a bird banding conference held at the Patuxent Reserve, once with Mary and once only with other banders.  On both occasions we were provided with rooms in a building adjacent to the large building which housed all the bird banding data since 1921.  On the final occasion, Chan still appeared and worked in his office each day.

With warm regards,             


C. Stuart Houston
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Chan was always such a lovely guy.  We were conversing by email about his banded albatross just a few months ago.

Chan became my hero starting in the 7th grade when I was first introduced to him.  I remember reading the initial work he did on the acute toxicity of DDT in songbirds - he sprayed a section of woodland at Patuxent, then walked through picking up dying warblers.  That work had a big influence on Rachel Carson.

Philip K. Stoddard
Dept. Biological Sciences
Florida International University
Miami, FL
Note: Phil worked summers with us at Patuxent during the late 1970s when he was a student at Swarthmore. In addition to being a professor, he’s the mayor of South Miami!

It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with Chan, and he will always be an example of what to strive for. The passing of an era, no less, and while it's an irreplaceable loss to so many, his legacy lives on and is a beacon in these ugly times. I'm sure I'm not the first to comment on the symbolic nature of the date, with migrant arrivals just around the corner.

Paul Wood
Mérida, Yucatan, México

Note: We worked with Paul on the banding project at Rancho Sandoval, Campeche, México.

Chan will certainly be missed in the birding world although the mark he made will be hard to surpass.  Such a wonderful person.  Now he flies high with all his winged friends but his memory will live on in all of us who were so fortunate to be touched by his goodness.

Rosamund Coates-Lutes
(formerly Coates-Estrada)
Estación de Biología, Los Tuxtlas
Veracruz, México

Note: Chan and Barb banded birds at Los Tuxtlas, and Rosy helped out in at least one banding session in Guatemala (and maybe Belize)

Despite having known Chan for only a handful of years, I have very clear memories of our interactions.  When I first learned his house was just a few blocks away, I worked up the courage to introduce myself as a fellow birder.  He of course was delightfully friendly and welcomed me in.  One day he invited me to help with the mist nets in his yard.  He quizzed me on some birds he'd already captured, which definitely put me on the spot. I was glad I correctly identified the Prairie Warbler he showed me!  I was amazed at how adeptly he extracted birds from the nets, even if the birds seemed hopelessly tangled.  His enthusiasm for his tiny charges and the care he took while handling them left a lasting impression on me.  I also had the great honor of being trained by Chan on his Breeding Bird Survey route (the original!).  I later took over the route from him, though it was since retired in favor of one less urbanized.  I ran that new route just this past Sunday, and thought of Chan.

Derek Richardson

What ears!   What eyes!   What knowledge of our feathered friends!   Chan Robbins was truly amazing company when walking down a trail anywhere in Maryland or elsewhere.   It has been a high honor and privilege knowing him and having had experiences in the field with him.   He and Eleanor and their entire family have done so much for preserving our wildlife habitats and in collecting and making available the data needed to protect those habitats.  I loved reading his Christmas letters and will dearly miss them.  

Jim Cheevers

I once outbid Chan for a book at the MOS Silent Auction, and always felt guilty.   It was a French-language birds of North Africa.  Some years later I found an English-language version, and it was about the time of Chan's 90th birthday. So I sent him the French version as a birthday present.  

Kurt Schwarz

Chan's publication of birdsong sonograms in his field guide galvanized birding. It opened a lifetime of birding pleasure to many birders, like me, who are unable to learn by acoustics alone.  He was THE patient authority, guiding light, and fun loving inspiration for DC teenage birders in the 1960s, including the birding cult known as "The Holy Order of Loggerhead Shrikes" whose members are present at his memorial today. His compliments, enthusiasm, kindliness, and methodical approach to huge complex scientific questions inspired many of us to grow and spend our adult lives exploring, identifying, documenting and conserving birds throughout the Americas and the rest of the world.  Thank you Chan!

Don Simonson

Dr. Chandler Robbins was a patient at the McCarl dental office in Greenbelt since the 1940's.  He saw my grandfather, my father, my brother and then me as his dentist. He was prince of a man, always pleasant and kind hearted!

He will be greatly missed!


Jay McCarl, DDS

Chan with Jay McCarl, DDS

Chan was a gentle giant within the birding world and the environmental movement. He introduced and encouraged hundreds, if not thousands, of people to preserve habitat, observe birds, and monitor their habits. Chan left a worldwide legacy of a personal commitment to the bird world. I was privileged to have known and birded with him.

Eileen Clegg

I did not know Chan well on a personal level. Years ago (2003) I organized a meeting for the Neotropical Ornithological Society. It was held in Puyehue, Chile. I also organized a simultaneous meeting for the parties to the Western Hemisphere Convention on Migratory Species, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. Wildlife leaders from many government agencies were in attendance, including John Turner, then the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (and former director of the USFWS). One morning, I stepped outside the conference hotel for a bit of birding. I joined a small group that was just setting out:

Chan with birders

(Pete Kaestner is wearing the red plaid shirt and teal jacket: I'm in the purple jacket at the right-hand end of the photo)
When I showed this photo to my parents, they asked who these people were. I said, "Well, that's John Turner, the Assistant Secretary of State."
To everyone else in the world, I said, "That's Chan Robbins (though nearly everyone I know is in the birder/ornithology world and of course knew who he was!) and Pete Kaestner, one of the leading birders in the world! That's what made the day for me - being in the company of Chan and Pete. 

Ellen Paul

My last meetings with Chan were at the 4th North American Ornithological Conference in Vera Cruz Mexico in 2006. He was frail and in a  wheelchair, but as lively as ever and still excited by the birds in the region. It was at a time when massive hawk migrations were attracting the participants at the conference and Chan was enjoying the experience as were the other AOU members.

Fred Cooke

What ears!   What eyes!   What knowledge of our feathered friends!   Chan Robbins was truly amazing company when walking down a trail anywhere in Maryland or elsewhere.   It has been a high honor and privilege knowing him and having had experiences in the field with him.   He and Eleanor and their entire family have done so much for preserving our wildlife habitats and in collecting and making available the data needed to protect those habitats.  I loved reading his Christmas letters and will dearly miss them.

Jim Cheevers

I once outbid Chan for a book at the MOS Silent Auction, and always felt guilty.   It was a French-language birds of North Africa.  Some years later I found an English-language version, and it was about the time of Chan's 90th birthday. So I sent him the French version as a birthday present.  

Kurt Schwarz

I have many fond memories of Chan Robbins.  But one kind of sticks out in my mind.  I used to teach an introductory class to some of the biologists on using SAS (Statistical Analysis System) on the computer.  I have to say that Chan was my star pupil--he always paid attention and stayed with me--not jumping ahead or falling asleep (like some of the others)!  He also asked some very good questions.

Another memory I have of Chan is whenever I saw a new bird, I mentioned it to Chan.  I was so excited when I saw my first white-crowned sparrows after we moved up to Pennsylvania.  Even though I am sure he saw millions of these birds, he was very enthusiastic and happy for me.

What a gem of a man!  Thanks Chan for all you did and all you were!

Lois Loges

My fond memories of Chan are from my association with him in the Audubon Naturalist Society and on some of his Christmas Bird Counts. He was one ornithologist who treasured and respected the contributions of amateurs.

Napier Shelton

Many years ago I was helping Chan with the North Pocomoke territory on the Ocean City Christmas Count. Chan always took the worst territories – the ones that no one else wanted to do – and that is North Poke on the Ocean City CBC.  Driving down a road, we discovered a new major drainage ditch had been dug through a swamp forest.  This was so long ago that it was not only legal to drain a swamp, it was subsidized by the government! We decided that it must follow a stream marked on the topographic map (no Google Earth then!) and must come out on a parallel road to which the stream went.  Chan suggested that I walk the ditch bank and he would pick me up at dusk on the parallel road.  As it turned out, the ditch did not go where we thought it would and I ended up on a different road.  And very shortly afterwards, the Chevy station wagon showed up.  Turns out, Chan went to check out the pickup point and discovered the problem.  Also turns out that he had a reporter from the Baltimore Sun traveling with him for a while, so a story was published about a lost Christmas counter.  But both of us knew that I was never lost – just exploring new territory, confident that, wherever I was going, Chan would find me there…

Paul Bystrak

The Bartsch Award for Distinguished Contributions to Natural History

Chan Robbins received this award from Audubon Naturalist Society in 1979 and it we display it proudly at our headquarters at Woodend Sanctuary. To his many students, friends and admirers among the ranks of Audubon Naturalist Society, it is no surprise that Chan continued to share his passion, enthusiasm and scientific knowledge for nearly 40 years after he received this award. Chan will be remembered with admiration and affection by many members of Audubon Naturalist Society and his life’s work will continue to influence generations of amateur and professional naturalists.

Lisa Alexander

Chan has been an inspiration to me since the early 1970s when I was a young biologist doing breeding bird surveys in Chan's Middle Patuxent Valley study area. One hot summer morning I was listening to a hooded warbler when I saw Chan emerge from the thick understory and wave hello. What a thrill that was for a young wildlife biologist just starting out to be counting birds alongside the great Chan Robbins! That was the beginning of my career-long admiration of Chan as a man and for his countless contributions to bird conservation.

Thomas M. Franklin

Chandler Seymour Robbins was a most remarkable man.   His passing on 20 March 2017 at the age of 98 sadden all that knew him personally and those that that new of him through his monumental studies of birds in the Americas.   His conservation efforts for the benefit of birds and their habitats, the teaching of others about birds, memberships in numerous professional and state organizations on birds, serving in various  capacities within organizations through the years, the banding of birds through his long productive life, his 60 plus years as a Wildlife Research Biologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel Maryland and continued  in retirement,  going to his office several days a week, writing and reviewing of manuscripts, answering correspondence for publications up until just prior  to the time of his death, are truly amazing. He was world renowned for his creation in 1966 of the Breeding Bird Survey, a standardized 25-mile long roadside census, now the largest program of monitoring birds anywhere.  Chan was instrumental in the creation of State Breeding Bird Atlases, when he pioneered the program in Maryland and helped with atlas work in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and northern New England.  He published hundreds of papers, notes, popular articles, and co-authored two books; "Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia" with Robert E. Stewart in 1958 in North American Fauna, Number 62, and "A Guide to Field Identification:  Birds of North America" as first author with Bertel Bruun and Herbert S. Zim, illustrated by Arthur Singer, in 1966 in the Golden Field Guide series.   He served as reviewer and editor for a number of bird journals over the years.  A number of my manuscripts were greatly improved by his thorough and impartial reviews.  His many studies of birds were wide ranging to include: effects of DDT,  breeding and winter bird studies, Morning Dove surveys, Operation Recovery (study of fall land-bird migration along the Atlantic Coast), training Latin America biologists, training bird banders, and the list goes on.  In the 1940s, in the course of a study at Midway Island,  Hawaii,  where there was a problem of U. S. Navy airplanes colliding with albatrosses that nest on the island, Chan banded a female Laysan Albatross, that later became known as "Wisdom".  The bird as of 2016 is 66 years old ---the oldest known wild bird in the world.  She is still laying eggs and fledging chicks.   Chan was involved with the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count from the time he was 16 and had participated on them for 82 years and been on over 400 counts.  Chan was a very friendly person that knew no strangers and treated everyone with utmost respect. With all his renowned accomplishments he was not the least bit contemptuous.   Chan had a ready smile and was easily recognizable with his signature flat-top haircut.

 I have known him much of my life.  He was one of my role models and one of my references when I applied for and received my Wildlife Research Biologist position at Patuxent WRC in 1967.  We first met at my parent’s home at Norfolk, Virginia circa 1955.  Patuxent was starting a study on blackbirds and their depredations on agricultural crops.  A the time I was the compiler of the Norfolk County, VA Christmas Bird Count and we were estimating Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles in the millions as the birds were roosting in the eastern part of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina.  Chan, Robert E. Stewart, and Brooke Meanley came to see me to obtain information about the blackbird roost. Thereafter Chan and I kept in touch by telephone, correspondence, and on all visits to Patuxent over the years as I always stopped by his office, and talked with him at AOU meetings.

Paul Sykes

Charles Kemper

Charles Kemper

Dorothy Cole

Dorothy Cole

Byron Swift

Byron Swift

Photo of Chan Robbins completing BBS route.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA
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