June 9, 2016

Robie W. Tufts


(11 August 1884 – 7 November 1982)

Robie W. Tufts can truly be called the father of migratory bird science in the Maritimes. He is worthy of special recognition not only for what he did in his work with wildlife conservation, but in shaping the attitudes of a whole new generation of both professional and amateur conservationists.
This Wolfille, NS native developed a keen interest in birds at a young age, encouraged by his mother, a botanist. He accompanied her on field excursions and developed a passion for birds that would last his ebtire life. While working in the banking business, Robie had a deep concern about declining numbers of birds due exclusively to overhunting and a general lack of conservation standards. He eagerly welcomed the passage of the Migratory Birds convention Act in 1917, and subsequently became the Chief Federal Migratory Birds Officer for the Maritimes two years later.

With relentless vigour, and armed with those new laws, Robie quickly amassed an impressive 679 charges and convictions in the first 13 years of his work, following his philosophy of “hew to the line and let the chips fall where they may”. While this is a notable enforcement achievement, his most significant contribution was his enthusiasm not only to enforce the law, but to educate those who whould run afoul of the regulations. In fact, many of those lawbreakers, after their encounter with the formidable character of Robie, would become some of the most vehement conservationists.

The most exemplary success of Robie’s unique approach to enforcement was with two young boys whom he caught shooting birds in an Annapolis Valley orchard. After an intial blood-curdling lecture, he took the two boys into his home where he introduced them in a much warmer way to the philosophy of conservation. In later life, these two young mischief-makers developed distinguished careers in wildlife conservation, one of whome went on to occupy a prestigious senior position with the National Museum of Natural Science in Ottawa.

Robie retired in 1947 from the organization which later became the Canadian Wildlife Service, but he continued to contribute to the understanding of nature and migratory birds in Canada. Among his many distinctions were honorary degrees from Acadia and Dalhousie Universities, Acadia’s laboratory of Ornithology bears his name, as does a subspecies of the long-eared owl (Asio otus tuftsi). His leadership in the volunteer community also was legendary, as the first presedent of the Nova Scotia Bird Sosiety, as well as holding offices in the Nova Scotia Fish and Game Association.

He was a prolific writer, and his published works number more than 65 articles and books. He also had weekly newspaper columns in the Halifax Chronicle Herald which were subsequently compiled into the book “Birds and their Ways”. Other books of his became the authoritative standard including “Nova Scotia Birds of Prey” and “Birds of Nova Scotia. Perhaps his his most remarkable acheivement was the fact that this very full lifetime of wildlife conservation was nearly all accomplished from the Town of Wolfville where he spent most of his 98 years.