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.
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.
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.”
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.