Chandler Robbins

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Chandler Robbins
Chandler Robbins, in the field
Born (1918-07-17)July 17, 1918
Belmont, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 20, 2017(2017-03-20) (aged 98)
Laurel, Maryland, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Ornithology
Institutions Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Alma mater Harvard University, George Washington University
Known for North American Breeding Bird Survey, Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification

Chandler Seymour Robbins (July 17, 1918 – March 20, 2017) was an American ornithologist. His contributions to the field include co-authorship of an influential field guide to birds, as well as organizing the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

Early life[edit]

Robbins was born in Belmont, Massachusetts. He received an A.B. degree from Harvard University in 1940;[1] Ludlow Griscom was one of his advisers there.[2][3] His M.A. degree is from George Washington University in 1950.[1]


Robbins joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1945 as a junior biologist at what is now the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.[4] In his early career, he co-authored journal publications on the effects of the pesticide DDT on breeding bird populations; this work, and that of other researchers, led to Rachel Carson's publication of the book Silent Spring.[5]

In his lengthy career, Robbins made major contributions in the discipline of field ornithology, from innovative measurement techniques to documentation of the effects of forest fragmentation on eastern woodland birds.[4] His research into forest fragmentation informed regulations developed by the state of Maryland to provide environmental protection to Chesapeake Bay.[6] He performed field work in the mid-Atlantic region, in Latin America and on Midway Island. Robbins banded the oldest recorded living bird, Wisdom (albatross) the Laysan Albatross, on Midway Island in 1956. As of 2016, Wisdom is at least 65 years old.[7][4][8][9]

One of the most important accomplishments by Robbins is the methodology of the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The data collection and population estimation scheme employed the strategy of point count samples taken along the roadside by skilled observers; it thereby made the practice of continent-wide bird monitoring efficient for the first time, and placed it on a sound statistical footing.[10] First tested in Maryland and Delaware in 1965, the BBS was rolled out nationwide in the next few years.[4]

In the mid-1940s, Robbins became coordinator of the continent-wide collection of bird migration records in a program initiated by Wells W. Cooke. The program accepted its last cards in 1970, but these 90 years of records are now being digitized and transcribed as part of the North American Bird Phenology Program.[11]

In the popular press, Robbins wrote Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification with Bertel Bruun and Herbert S. Zim (illustrated by Arthur Singer) in 1966. The so-called "Golden Guide" (the authors' names did not appear on the front cover) introduced innovative two-page spreads that integrated text, illustrations, range maps and silhouettes. Tracking the advances in optics available to birders, the book presented a wider range of plumages, in more color and detail, than previous guidebooks.[12][13] As another innovation, the guide represented bird vocalizations with sonograms, two-dimensional graphs of frequency and amplitude over time.[13] The work and its integration of design and purpose were cited by Edward Tufte for its "sense of craft, detail, and credibility that comes from gathering and displaying good evidence all together."[14] It was likewise a commercial success, with millions of copies sold.[15] (A small point of confusion: the publisher issued the book in its Golden Field Guide series, using the Golden Guide name for its science books for younger readers.)


In 1987, Robbins was awarded the Linnaean Society of New York's Eisenmann Medal.[16] Also in 1987, Robbins received the U.S. Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award.[4] He received the Ludlow Griscom Award for contributions in regional ornithology from the American Birding Association in 1984;[17] the Elliott Coues Award from the American Ornithologists' Union in 1997;[18] and the 2000 Audubon Medal from the National Audubon Society.[19] In 1995, Robbins was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.[20]

In 2000, the American Birding Association established the Chandler Robbins Award for significant contributions to birder education and/or bird conservation.[17] 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.[2]

Later life[edit]

After 60 years of public service, Robbins retired from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in 2005, taking the title Scientist Emeritus.[21] As of 2015, Robbins was still an active volunteer at the Bird Banding Lab "appearing at the lab in Laurel about three times a week".[22]

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 Landscapes. Ecological 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.
  • Robbins, Chandler S. 2016. Early avian studies at Patuxent. Pages 13-24, in Perry, M.C., ed., 2016, The history of Patuxent—America’s wildlife research story: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1422, 255 p.,


  1. ^ a b American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences. Detroit, MI: Thomson/Gale. 2003. p. 219. 
  2. ^ a b Strycker, Noah (September 2012). "A Birding Interview with Chandler S. Robbins" (PDF). Birding. 44 (5): 16–21. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Davis, William E., Jr. (1994). Dean of the Birdwatchers: A Biography of Ludlow Griscom. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 120. ISBN 1-56098-310-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Boone, Jon; Dowell, Barbara; Sheppard, Jay. "Chandler S. Robbins—Biography". Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  5. ^ Clark, Gary (12 August 2006). "Ornithologist revolutionized the study of birds". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  6. ^ Hess, Paul (July–August 2006). "Chandler Robbins: Sixty Visionary Years" (PDF). Birding. 38 (4): 26–27. Retrieved 12 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Semmes, Anne W. (6 July 2016). "Q&A: Chan Robbins Talks About Wisdom, The World's Oldest Banded Bird". Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Living Bird Magazine, digital edition on All About Birds. 
  8. ^ Vergano, Dan (8 March 2011). "Oldest recorded wild bird raising a chick". USA TODAY. Retrieved 14 February 2016. 
  9. ^ "Longevity Records Of North American Birds". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Ziolkowski, Jr., Dave; Pardieck, Keith; Sauer, John R. (July 2010). "On the Road Again—For a Bird Survey That Counts". Birding. 42 (4). 
  11. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. "North American Bird Phenology Program". Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Erickson, Laura (28 September 2011). "A closer look at North American field guides". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Dunlap, Thomas R. (2011). In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders & Their Guides. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 159–163. 
  14. ^ Tufte, Edward R. (2006). Beautiful Evidence. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press. p. 115. 
  15. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (4 October 2011). "Bertel Bruun, Guidebook Designer, Dies at 73". New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  16. ^ Linnaean Society of New York. "About Us". Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  17. ^ a b "American Birding Association Awards". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  18. ^ "Elliott Coues Award". American Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  19. ^ Thacker, Paul. "In Praise of Robbins". National Audubon Society. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Honorary Degrees". MAC to Millennium: The University of Maryland from A to Z. University of Maryland Libraries. Retrieved 14 December 2015. 
  21. ^ "USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Staff Profile: Chandler S. Robbins". Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  22. ^ Fears, Darryl (November 30, 2015). "The world's oldest bird is ready to do the unthinkable – have yet another baby". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 

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