A Talk on the Wild Side.
Robbins banding an albatross at Midway Island in 1966.
Renowned Service ornithologist Chandler Robbins died March 20. He was 98. Born July 17, 1918, in Boston, Robbins devoted his life to birds, their study and protection.
He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics and began teaching math and science in Vermont. Robbins then joined the Service in 1945 as a junior biologist at Patuxent Research Refuge, where he engaged in early research on the effects of DDT and had his papers edited by his colleague Rachel Carson.
Service retiree David Klinger remembers: "Several of us from the National Conservation Training Center got together at Patuxent around 2007, about the time of the centennial of Rachel Carson's birth. We wanted to know what Chan Robbins could tell us about Carson, as well as about his own eventful life. We were smart enough to know we needed an oral history with this 'grand old man' of ornithology, and, for hours, he didn't disappoint.”
Robbins was also the one who first banded the Laysan albatross named Wisdom in 1956. He re-banded the world’s oldest known banded bird in 2002.
Robbins holds mist-netted bird for a photographer. Photo courtesy USGS
During his 60 years of full-time work at Patuxent (he retired in 2005), Robbins made critical contributions to research on forest fragmentation, bird banding, breeding bird surveys and bird identification. He was a senior author of The Field Guide to Birds of North America, organizer of the North American Breeding Bird Survey and much more.
A listing of groups that have honored him, even just through 2005, reads like a who's who of conservation groups. The National Audubon Society named him as one of 100 Champions of Conservation of the 20th Century (read an article on Robbins in Audubon Magazine). In 2000, the American Birding Association established the ABA Chandler Robbins Education/Conservation Award (read an article on Robbins in ABA’s Birding as well as tributes to Robbins ABA collected in 2012).
Robbins uses his binoculars. Photo by Barbara Dowell, courtesy USGS
"What symbolized Chan Robbins most eloquently to me was his worn-out old pair of government binoculars,” Klinger says. “Dented, heavy as lead and beat to hell. I hope they go into a Fish and Wildlife Service museum some day. He could have afforded the finest optics in the world, but he was comfortable with what he had. His acuity of eye and ear exceeded the powers of mere physics.”
In “retirement,” Robbins became "Scientist Emeritus" at Patuxent and continued to work at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
“I got to bird with two true recognized luminaries in the birding world – Roger Tory Peterson and Chandler Robbins, so I guess you can say I've lived a full life,” says Klinger.