Open Access
How to translate text using browser tools
1 January 2004 A Passion for Wildlife: The History of the Canadian Wildlife Service
Chandler S. Robbins
Author Affiliations +

J. Alexander Burnett. 2003. UBC Press, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. xiii + 331 pp., 66 photos. ISBN 0-7748-0960-4, cloth. 0-7748-0961-2, paper. Cloth, Canadian $85.00. Paper, Canadian $27.95. —This intimate historical account was contracted in 1996 by Environment Canada to naturalist-writer Burnett, who interviewed more than 120 present and former Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) employees of the 1947–1997 period. Each of the 10 chapters addresses a major topic, followed by a brief account of the chief activities of a five-year period. For example, chapter 1 is on “The Genesis of the Canadian Wildlife Service,” followed by highlights of the 1947–1952 period: “Setting the Wildlife Agenda.” The other nine chapters cover the history of enforcement; work with birds, mammals, and fish; habitats; education; toxicology; endangered species; and legislation.

I will discuss the bird chapter in detail. Ornithology “stood out as the pre-eminent scientific concern of the agency.” We learn that Hoyes Lloyd, who had retired in 1943 as Supervisor of Wild Life Protection after 25 years of service, was serving as American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) President, 1945–1948, and that Fred Cooke (current AOU President) received the AOU's prestigious Brewster Award in 1990. The four men Lloyd had recruited as Chief Migratory Bird Officers—Robie Tufts, Jim Munro, Dewey Soper, and Harrison Lewis—were approaching retirement when CWS was formed, so the reins soon passed to a younger generation. After a discussion on avian and human interactions, such as crop damage by cranes, Prince Edward Island's Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) bounty (paid on 1,092 birds), and hazards to aircraft, the bird chapter logically discusses research and management activities by major emphasis groups: waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, and landbirds.

Waterfowl dominated the CWS agenda for at least the first 20 years. Initially, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted aerial breeding ground surveys in Canada while CWS provided the ground-truthing. Canada gradually assumed a greater role. After migratory-bird hunting permits were introduced in 1966, samples of hunters were asked to submit wings and to complete hunting-success questionnaires to permit accurate correlation of bag composition data with the number and distribution of hunters. Activities were many and varied (e.g. Myrtle Bateman put numbered neck collars on Canada Geese [Branta canadensis]; Gerry Parker used radiotelemetry to track Black Ducks [Anas rubripes]). Among the dozens of wildlife biologists mentioned, Graham Cooch, Fred Cooke, Tony Erskine, Bernie Gollop, George Hochbaum, and Alex Dzubin are singled out for their research accomplishments. Establishment of the Prairie Migratory Bird Research Centre at Saskatoon in 1967 was a major event. Another milestone was reached in 1975, when Lynda Maltby's Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) banding team was the first all-female field party ever sent to the Arctic by the federal government.

The author devotes even more space to seabirds than to waterfowl. Through research, education, and legislation, CWS biologists have been reducing the depredations of hunters and egg collectors at Canada's seabird colonies. The effectiveness of the bird sanctuaries established nearly a century ago by Percy Taverner and Harrison Lewis has been extended by the creation of national and provincial parks and wildlife reserves. The survey of seabird colonies on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, started by Lewis in 1925, is one of the longest-running seabird databases in the world. Hugh Boyd, Regional Supervisor of Migratory Birds (Research) in Eastern and Northern Canada, is credited with the vision to expand CWS activities to birds other than waterfowl. Les Tuck in Newfoundland was the lone seabird researcher for CWS until publication of his book, The Murres, in 1961 laid the foundation for the CWS seabird research program. David Nettleship subsequently worked on puffins, developed standardized census techniques for seabird surveys, and coauthored The Atlantic Alcidae. Dick Brown studied seabirds at sea and published the Atlas of Eastern Canadian Seabirds and its supplement. Tony Lock did his doctoral research on gulls at Sable Island and became senior author of Gazetteer of Marine Birds in Atlantic Canada. In 1974, Kees Vermeer initiated CWS studies on the Pacific coast, where his team published some 55 papers on more than a dozen seabird species. Growing interest in oil, gas, and mineral exploration has provided even greater urgency for the seabird research. Inland, Hans Blokpoel focused on the distribution of colonial waterbirds in the Great Lakes, culminating in the five-volume Atlas of Colonial Waterbirds Nesting on the Canadian Great Lakes, 1989–1991.

Hugh Boyd enlisted Guy Morrison to initiate shorebird research in 1973. The Maritimes Shorebird Survey, involving volunteers, documented key concentration sites, and the use of colored dyes at a round-the-clock banding station at James Bay made it possible for observers from Canada to South America to track the migration. Morrison's banding efforts confirmed that shorebirds on northeastern Ellesmere Island winter in the British Isles and rely on resources in Iceland during their return journey in spring. Similarly, the upper Bay of Fundy is critical for southward migration of shorebirds that fly nonstop to South America. The CWS Latin American Program, coordinated first by Iola Price and later by Colleen Hyslop, provided funding for a study to locate important wintering and refueling areas in South America, resulting in Morrison and Ross's Atlas of Nearctic Shorebirds on the Coast of South America. As of 2000, 51 Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites have been established, 5 in Canada.

I like to think I was partly responsible for CWS finally hiring a National Coordinator of Non-Game Birds in the winter of 1967–1968. I had started the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in the eastern states and provinces in 1966, and extended it to the central states and provinces in 1967, and it would be continent wide in 1968. Canada needed a national coordinator for a landbird program of this magnitude. There was also a problem of how to deal with a growing collection of nest records “without having to export them to the United States.” To my delight, David Munro nominated Tony Erskine for this Nongame position. Erskine, well known for his interest in census and atlas studies, also embarked on a project to census songbirds in boreal habitats across Canada, a project that resulted in publication in 1977 of Birds in Boreal Canada, the first major CWS publication on songbirds. Experienced BBS observers helped lay the foundations for a wide range of other landbird projects, especially for the various provincial atlas publications, and for Dan Welsh's volunteer-based Forest Bird Monitoring Program.

The book is nostalgic reading for those of us who have known the leaders in Canadian ornithology and conservation through the years. It is well illustrated with action photos, and the nearly 650 documentary footnotes are so inconspicuously referenced as to not distract from the easy flow of the text. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet published a similar historical document to chronicle its activities over the decades. The closest we have come is Waterfowl Tomorrow (Linduska 1964) and Birds in Our Lives (Stefferud 1966), both of which, though sponsored by the Service, are broader in scope.

A Passion for Wildlife should be required reading for students of wildlife research, management, and protection. It illustrates how dedicated and resourceful professionals generate their own success stories and influence the history of their organization. The abundant references in the footnotes make this volume a valuable tool for researchers. Those of the female persuasion will be distressed by the sexual bias that still persisted among field biologists in the 50th year.

Literature Cited


H. Blokpoel and G. Tessier . 1993. Atlas of Colonial Waterbirds Nesting on the Canadian Great Lakes, 1989-1991. Part I: Cormorants, Gulls, and Island-nesting Terns on Lake Superior in 1989. Canadian Wildlife Service Technical Report Series, no. 181, Ottawa, Ontario. Google Scholar


R. G. B. Brown, D. N. Nettleship, P. Germain, C. E. Tull, and T. Davis . 1975. Atlas of Eastern Canadian Seabirds. Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario. Google Scholar


A. J. Erskine 1977. Birds in Boreal Canada: Communities, Densities, and Adaptations. Canadian Wildlife Service Report Series, no. 41, Ottawa, Ontario. Google Scholar


J. P. Linduska , editor. 1964. Waterfowl Tomorrow. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C. Google Scholar


A. R. Lock, R. G. B. Brown, and S. H. Gerriets . 1994. Gazetteer of Marine Birds in Atlantic Canada: An Atlas of Sea Bird Vulnerability to Oil Pollution. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region, Sackville, New Brunswick. Google Scholar


R. I. G. Morrison and R. K. Ross . 1989. Atlas of Nearctic Shorebirds on the Coast of South America. Canadian Wildlife Service Special Publication, Ottawa, Ontario. Google Scholar


D. N. Nettleship and T. R. Birkhead , editors. 1985. The Atlantic Alcidae: The Evolution, Distribution, and Biology of the Auks Inhabiting the Atlantic Ocean and Adjacent Water Areas. Academic Press, London. Google Scholar


A. Stefferud , editor. 1966. Birds in Our Lives. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C. Google Scholar


L. M. Tuck 1961. The Murres: Their Distribution, Populations, and Ecology: A Study of the Genus Uria. Canadian Wildlife Series, no. 1, Ottawa, Ontario. Google Scholar


Chandler S. Robbins "A Passion for Wildlife: The History of the Canadian Wildlife Service," The Auk 121(1), 273-275, (1 January 2004).[0273:APFWTH]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 January 2004
Back to Top