Saving history: The biologist who protected six million bird-watching notecards

Email a Friend
For nearly 100 years, birds couldn't shake their human paparazzi.

As part of the U.S. government's Bird Migration Program, bird enthusiasts from Kansas to the West Indies tracked down our feathered friends — the Jennifer Anistons of yesteryear — scribbling down notes about their habits: When they came to the area in springtime, where they roosted (and with whom they roosted), and when they flew away for winter.

The note-taking program was first started in 1882 under the leadership of bird expert Wells W. Cook, and it ended in 1970. I spoke with the program's last director, Chandler Robbins, who, at 90, is just three years into his retirement from the United States Geological Survey. Robbins has been protecting the notecards from the incinerator for more than 30 years. He gave us a history of the bird program and told us why it's so important for the two-by-fives to be dusted off and used — before the paper that holds them crumbles away. Click on the LISTEN button below to hear the conversation!