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Chandler Robbins: 60 Years of Public Service in Bird Conservation

Photo of Chandler S. Robbins

by Susan C. Wells
USGS Office of Communications and Outreach

What can you say about a Federal career spanning 60 years? In the case of Chandler Robbins, Research Wildlife Biologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, words are barely sufficient to capture the full measure of this dedicated, innovative, and ground-breaking scientist.

Regarded as the Father of Modern Ornithology, Chandler’s career is distinguished not only by his years of service, but even more so by his accomplishments in migratory bird conservation. As a scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chandler founded the North American Breeding Bird Survey, a program that monitors bird populations in the 48 contiguous states and Alaska, parts of Canada, and most recently, parts of Mexico. Begun in the 1960s, the program is one of the most influential, science-based surveys of bird populations in the world.

Every summer, nearly 6,000 volunteers collect data from field observations along more than 3,000 routes—each one 24.5-miles-long with 50 stops at half-mile intervals. T hese unique citizen-science-based surveys developed by Chandler have provided valuable data on population change of migratory birds and contributed to the evolution of bird conservation in North America. The scope of his research has been worldwide, however, with emphasis on North, Central, and South America, and the Pacific Islands.

Chandler’s research has also helped increase awareness of the effects of forest fragmentation on migratory birds. Old-growth forests are becoming pock-marked by residential and commercial development. These significant breaks in forest cover take their toll on long-distance migrating species, which require unbroken expanses of forest to survive. Chandler’s original research on this factor helped define new directions in biological conservation theory.

In the late 1940s, Chandler’s studies pointed out the deadly effects of DDT on bird populations and led to the 1972 U.S. ban on DDT as a pesticide. He has authored or co-authored over 500 papers, books, and reports on ornithology, including the popular Golden Guide to Birds of North America. Organizations such as Partners in Flight and related bird conservation plans owe their existence and scientific credibility in large part to his surveys and research results. His work has helped make birding one of the most popular recreational activities in America.

What does he find the most memorable aspect of his career? Despite his many accomplishments and outstanding dedication to the field of ornithology, Chandler says the most memorable aspect of his career is the wonderful people he’s worked with. He will greet 2006 as a retired Federal employee, but still plans to remain active. No doubt many more birders will be inspired by his energy, optimism, and intellectual curiosity.

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA
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