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Robert Porter Allen

Bob Allen’s story began long before his quest to locate the whooping cranes’ nesting site in the wilds of Canada. In 1916, at the train station in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Allen pushed his way to the front of the crowd as the local National Guard unit boarded a troop train bound for the Mexican border. As the train left the station, an officer stood on the rear platform and, raising his rifle, proclaimed his troop would end the Mexican Revolution. For Allen, a boy of eleven, it was an exciting moment and proved to be a turning point in his life. A deep desire for adventure had taken hold.

By the time he was in high school, Allen’s desire to study ornithology crystallized. Recognizing his potential, his biology teacher encouraged Allen to join the Junior Audubon Club. Through this organization, he was to meet notable ornithologists who would eventually direct and shape his career. He enrolled in Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, the alma mater of his father and grandfather, and eventually transferred to Cornell University. However, academia was tedious for a young man who had spent his youth hiking the mountain trails of the Susquehanna, canoeing river rapids, and tracking black bears. To satisfy his restless spirit, he joined the Merchant Marines before working for the National Audubon Society (NAS) in New York, where he honed his skills as a field researcher. In 1946, John Baker, president of the NAS named Allen director of the Whooping Crane Project, which eventually led to the bringing the endangered species back from the brink of extinction.

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Work Accomplishments

Bob Allen retired from fieldwork in 1960 and devoted his days to writing and publishing articles in Audubon Magazine. In 1957, McGraw-Hill published Allen’s book On the Trail of Vanishing Birds, which won him the John Burroughs Award for outstanding nature book that year. In 1957, the American Ornithologists’ Union presented Allen with the Brewster Memorial Award, considered the highest honor for an ornithologist. And in 1961, Viking Press published Allen’s Birds of the Caribbean. The following year, Golden Press released Allen’s Giant Golden Book of Birds: An Introduction to Familiar and Interesting Birds of North America. After that, Allen began researching his most ambitious writing project, a sixteen-volume series entitled Birds of the World.


In 1964, the year after Allen’s death, President Johnson’s secretary of the interior, Stewart Udall, proclaimed three islands in Florida Bay where Allen studied the roseate spoonbills, the Bob Allen Keys.

Robert Porter Allen's Office
Research camp


The rare and endangered birds of North America lost one of their most able and vocal advocates when Robert P. Allen died at his home in Tavernier, Florida on June 28, 1963.
In an age when molecular biology is believed, by some, to be the ultimate science, Bob Allen was the epitome of the field biologist. Deeply concerned with all living things, human as well as avian, Bob was an ecologist in the best sense of the word but was actually much more than that. He believed that in order to help an endangered species you must
first know as much about it as possible, and th'en having gained this knowledge, you must do something about it. He was a conservation activist. He literally gave his life for his beliefs and his birds.

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