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Preserving the Legacy of Mr. Dick Tuttle

Photo © Ohio Bluebird Society

by Robyn Bailey, NestWatch Project Leader

When I heard the news that Dick Tuttle passed away in July 2022, my first thought was that another legend has fallen. Although I did not know Dick well, his reputation preceded him, and I knew that he had been collecting data on cavity-nesting birds since before I was born. We met in 2019 at an annual meeting of the Ohio Bluebird Society where I had been invited to speak, and Dick mentioned to me all of the work that he had been doing on Prothonotary Warblers and other box-nesting species. By that time, he had already received multiple achievement awards from Ohio Bluebird Society, Columbus Audubon, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame, and others. So despite only having met him once, I recognized the loss of a tireless champion for Ohio’s birds.

By Any Means Necessary

By Any Means Necessary

Dick Tuttle was known for his unusual methods, and he had his own way of doing things!

Dick worked to restore cavity-nesting birds wherever he could, collaborating with everyone from middle school students to incarcerated people in his endeavors. He was known throughout his community of Delaware, Ohio for his many bird projects, including bluebird box installation, Osprey pole maintenance, and Chimney Swift surveys. He was also a prolific writer, authoring more than 86 articles for Columbus Audubon. For 53 years, he compiled data from ~411 nest boxes accommodating 10 species of native birds. Thanks to Dick, at least 58,119 fledglings left those boxes. However, at the time of his death, the data were in jeopardy of being lost forever because they were contained mostly on paper and had no clear custodian.

Stacks of Data

Stacks of Data

Dick Tuttle stands beside his stack of data books, a lifetime's worth of citizen-science data.

Concerned about this precarious situation, I contacted Darlene Sillick, longtime NestWatcher, president of the Ohio Bluebird Society, and leader of the Ohio Young Birders Club. She was familiar with Mr. Tuttle’s many projects and even told me about a book that he had been writing. Darlene was just the person to facilitate the archival of this lifetime’s work. Within a few short months, she had marshaled one of the most productive volunteers I have ever met.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Tim Bischoff is the heroic recent retiree who agreed to enter all 17,362 nest records on Dick Tuttle’s behalf. He painstakingly transcribed records from notebooks, attended Zoom calls with me to sort out the particulars of this dataset, spoke with other trail coordinators, and even went to find some boxes in person to verify their numbers. He handled all of this with a quiet humility. Tim is the quintessential citizen scientist, and also participates in our Nest Quest Go! project which helps to save historical paper nest records from obsolescence. Darlene Sillick told NestWatch, “I am glad to have had Dick for my mentor, and I know in my heart how he changed my life. I am still in awe that Tim was able to sort all this out.”

Public Banding Demonstration

Public Banding Demonstration

In August 2021, Dick Tuttle bands American Kestrel nestlings and records data at a public event.

A Dataset Preserved

NestWatch is now the proud home of Dick Tuttle’s nest monitoring data. His 17,362 nest records spanning from 1969 to 2021 are safely preserved in our database, available to scientists for generations to come. We hope to honor his legacy by stewarding these data. We are grateful for the supporters who made this happen (with special thanks to Tim Bischoff, Darlene Sillick, and Saundra McBrearty). Last but not least, we say a final “Thank you” to Dick Tuttle for your conservation work, your mentorship in your community, and your vision to start this work well before the term “citizen science” was coined to describe it. 

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7 responses to “Preserving the Legacy of Mr. Dick Tuttle”

  1. Margot Brinn says:

    thank you to both men for this work,

  2. Mary Kathleen Barnes says:

    Many thanks to Tim Bischoff, Darlene Sillick, Saundra McBrearty, and Robyn Bailey for your tireless efforts to preserve this treasure trove of information collected by Dick Tuttle. Your work is sincerely appreciated – more than words can express.

  3. Rebecca Jordan says:

    Robyn thank you for honoring Dick Tuttle. He would have been humbly happy to read your words. I knew Dick for over 30 years we were both volunteers for Preservation Parks of Delaware County Ohio and shared a love of birds and nature. He was a silent hero of citizen science in his niche to help cavity nesting bird species. I am thankful that you have preserved and archived all his years of research and data for the species he was so passionate about. I no longer live in Ohio and was heartbroken to learn of his passing last July.

  4. TY says:

    An understated “Thank You!” to remarkable individuals!!

  5. Rich Bradley says:

    Dick was so dedicated! Truly tireless advocate, and he didn’t mince words about proper care of nest boxes, etc. After recovering from the shocking news of his death, I too was very concerned about the status of his huge trove of data. I’m so very glad to hear that it has been carefully digitized.

  6. Johanna Nyman says:

    This is amazing! Grateful for these people who worked so hard to transcribe all this and keep his legacy alive. Dick seems like he was a great guy

  7. Mel says:

    Dick was my Environmental Studies teacher 1971-72. He would hardly believe one of the worst students he ever had would go on to build and restore habitat while remembering what he really taught me that was not in those textbooks.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology