September 26, 2023

Ornithology institute founder leaves UMM > Charles Duncan to join Nature Conservancy

MACHIAS — The University of Maine at Machias professor who created the internationally known Institute for Field Ornithology and led expeditions of birders to sites as far away as Venezuela is leaving UMM to work for The Nature Conservancy.

In a letter to institute supporters and news organizations, Charles Duncan said he is leaving Machias in mid-January, but the Institute for Field Ornithology will continue under the auspices of UMM for at least the next year.

An August 1999 workshop on shorebirds, to be held in Sackville, New Brunswick, will go forward as will an October class on raptors in Cape May, N.J.

Duncan, who has directed the institute since its inception 15 years ago, said he is exploring the possibility of moving the institute to an organization that is more focused on birding than UMM.

“The concept of the [institute] is as valid as ever, I believe,” Duncan wrote. “Clearly, people are exited about learning about birds and working to conserve them and their habitats. Again, it’s too soon to say anything definite, but there are certainly some possibilities that I would be very pleased to see realized.”

Duncan, a professor of chemistry and environmental studies, came to UMM more than 15 years ago. Taking advantage of what he said is the university’s “spectacular location,” he decided to offer educational events for birders and ornithologists.

“I wanted to focus the considerable talents and energies of bird-watchers for the advancement of ornithology and for the cause of conservation of birds in the wild,” Duncan said.

That idea became the Institute for Field Ornithology, which began offering classes in bird-sound recording and shorebirds in 1984. Since that time, the institute has sponsored more than 50 workshops on such topics as photography, advanced identification skills, birding by ear, seabirds, warblers, raptors, how birds migrate, tropical birding and sparrows.

The workshops have attracted approximately 500 participants from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain, and were conducted at sites in Washington County as well as New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Washington state, New Brunswick, Mexico and Venezuela.

UMM President Paul Nordstrom said Duncan has been a valued faculty member and that the Institute for Field Ornithology is a significant achievement for UMM, nationally and internationally.

Duncan’s work made many people aware of the university’s distinctive location and resources. In addition to the institute, UMM has an ornithology library on campus that contains hundreds of books and publications donated in memory of Topsham ornithologist Jean Hamlin by her husband, Arthur, Nordstrom said.

Machiasport field ornithologist Norm Famous said Washington County, for a small area, has one the highest numbers of breeding bird species in the United States. More than 140 species of breeding birds can be seen within a 10-mile radius of Machias alone, Famous said.

Eastern Washington County has one of the highest populations of breeding seabirds in the country as well as the highest number of species of shorebirds.

Duncan’s new position is conservation ornithologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Wings of the Americas program. Funded by Canon U.S.A. Inc., Wings of Americas is a comprehensive, science-based conservation program to protect birds throughout the Americas.

Duncan said he and his wife, Ilze, whom he met through the institute, will live in Portland, but he will be traveling to places such as Latin America and the Caribbean, where Wings of the Americas is developing partnerships and conservation projects.

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