Frederick Lincoln, Pioneer of Bird Banding, Born (1892)

The systematic use of bird banding to enhance the conservation of birds was the invention of Frederick C. Lincoln, born on May 5, 1892 (died 1960).  From his earliest days, Lincoln loved birds and built an exceptional career from that love.

As a teenager growing up in Denver, he worked summers for the Colorado Museum of Natural History.  His supervisor was Alexander Wetmore (who became the Sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), who taught Lincoln various aspects of bird-craft, including the preparation of bird skins for scientific use.  Lincoln liked the work so much that he never attended college, but went straight to work as an ornithologist after high school.  By age 21, he had advanced to be Curator of Ornithology at the museum.  He worked extensively with Wetmore, including undertaking several field expeditions throughout the southeastern U.S.

During World War I, Lincoln served in the Signal Corps as a carrier pigeon expert.  Pigeons were essential for battle-field communication during the war, as telephones and other devices were unreliable.  More than 100,000 carrier pigeons were used during World War I—by both sides—providing a 95% reliable communication channel.

Upon his return from military service, Lincoln joined the staff of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) with a very particular assignment:  Organize and implement a national bird-banding program for migratory waterfowl.  In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act gave the survey the responsibility for estimating the health of waterfowl populations and setting hunting regulations across the country.  The survey needed reliable information.

Frederick Lincoln with banded duck, 1921 (photo by National Photo Company Collection)

Lincoln was the man for the job.  As colleagues described him, “Fred Lincoln was a rather quiet, studious person…” and “Lincoln approached his task with … characteristic professionalism, thoroughness, vision and dedication….”  He combined the pieces of the emerging technique of bird-banding into a continental system with organized numbering schemes, data collection protocols and analytic methods.

The accumulating data about bird movements led Lincoln to propose the concept of migratory flyways, routes that birds generally took when moving between nesting and wintering grounds.  The flyway system is now the basis for how waterfowl are managed across North America—and the world.  As a colleague described, because of Lincoln’s work “the migration patterns of North American birds are probably known in more detail than is true for any other continent.”

Frederick Lincoln at his US Fish and Wildlife Service desk (photo by U.S. National Archives and U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory)

Lincoln also realized that reliable estimates of the total abundance of each waterfowl species was needed annually so responsible hunting regulations could be established.  He developed a way to use bird-banding data from the previous year along with estimates of the next year’s hunting harvest to estimate abundance.  That straight-forward technique, first described in a survey bulletin in 1930, is now a standard technique in fisheries and wildlife management, known as the “Lincoln Index.”

He authored hundreds of papers during his career, along with several foundational books in ornithology.  His contributions were noted in 1956 when the man who had never stepped in a college classroom was presented an honorary doctorate by the University of Colorado.  The next year, he received the Department of Interior’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Award.

References:

Gabrielson, Ira N.  1962.  Obituary.  Auk 79(3):495-499.  Available at:  https://sora.unm.edu/node/21142.  Accessed May 4, 2017.

Lincoln, Fredrick C.  1930.  Calculating waterfowl abundance on the basis of banding returns.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Circular No. 118, May, 1930.  4 pages.  Available at:  https://ia801702.us.archive.org/31/items/calculatingwater118linc/calculatingwater118linc.pdf. Accessed May 4, 2017.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  Frederick Charles Lincoln.  Available at:  https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/resshow/perry/bios/lincolnfrederick.htm. Accessed May 4, 2017.

Tautin, John.  2005.  Frederick C. Lincoln and the formation of the North American bird banding program.  USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report PSW-GRT-191:813-814.  Available at:  https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr191/psw_gtr191_0813-0814_tatuin.pdf.  Accessed May 4, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
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