Charles E. Huntington

Charles E. Huntington, professor of biology emeritus and director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station emeritus, died on January 2, 2017.

Alfred Gross and Chuck Huntington on Kent Island in 1965.

Alfred Gross and Chuck Huntington on Kent Island in 1965.

President Rose sent the following message to the Bowdoin community on January 3, 2017:

To the Bowdoin community,

I write to share the news that Charles E. “Chuck” Huntington, professor of biology emeritus and director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station emeritus, passed away on Monday morning, January 2, surrounded by his family. He was ninety-seven years of age.  

Chuck was born in Boston on December 8, 1919. As a child, he began keeping lists of the birds he saw around his home; he noted that after his eleventh birthday he “became more methodical” in his observations. A passion for knowledge and attention to detail would characterize Chuck’s extraordinary career in ornithology and evolutionary biology.

He attended the Pomfret School in Connecticut and the Cranbrook School in England before entering Yale University in 1938. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1942, he served in the US Naval Reserve for four years during World War II, assigned to posts in the United States, Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides, and aboard the USS Lexington. He was released to inactive duty in 1946 as a lieutenant, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in the reserves in 1951, and received his discharge in 1957. Chuck returned to Yale in 1946 and earned a doctorate in biology in 1952.

He was introduced to Bowdoin’s research station on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy by the late Ray Paynter ’47, a fellow Yale graduate student. When a position opened up in the biology department at Bowdoin in 1953, Chuck applied and was hired as an instructor. From the beginning, he tied his research interests in the evolution of reproductive-isolating mechanisms and population-stabilizing mechanisms in bird populations to Kent Island and, especially, to the Leach’s storm petrels—diminutive relatives of the albatross—that nested there. Because of his prolific scholarship and his ability to inspire students, Chuck was promoted to assistant professor in 1955, to associate professor in 1964, and to full professor in 1970. He spent the 1963-64 academic year conducting research at Oxford University in England and went further afield in 1977-78, spending the year at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, to study sea birds. He served as chairman of the Bowdoin Department of Biology from 1973 to 1976. He supervised and coordinated the College’s first interdisciplinary environmental studies program in 1971. For more than three decades, he was the director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station at Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy. He retired in 1986 and was elected an honorary member of the Bowdoin Alumni Association. He served on the Harpswell School Committee from 1966 to 1969 and on the board of directors for Maine School Administrative District 75 from 1969 to 1974.

Chuck’s curiosity about the little-known life history and underground nesting behavior of the Leach’s storm petrel led to more than a half-century of research that established him as the leading authority on the subject. By banding birds and mapping and documenting nests each year, Chuck amassed longitudinal data on a single population of animals over an interval and at a level of detail that are perhaps without equal in field biology. Future generations of researchers will build on Chuck’s meticulous scholarship and the work of Bowdoin Professor Nat Wheelwright and other colleagues on the ecology and ornithology of Kent Island.

An active and engaged scholar, Chuck was the author of numerous articles in professional journals and delivered papers at professional conferences and meetings. He also gave popular lectures on such subjects as “Bird Ecology” and “Sea Birds of the North Atlantic.” He was a founder of the Maine State Biologists’ Association, and served for a time as its vice-president. He was president of the Association of Field Ornithologists (1962-67), president of the Northeast Bird-Banding Association for many years, vice-president of the Portland Society of Natural History, and vice-president of the Maine Audubon Society and assistant editor of its newsletter. He was a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Society of Systematic Zoology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Science, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the British Ornithologists’ Union, the Wilson Ornithological Society, and the Cooper Ornithological Society.

For generations of Bowdoin students, being with Chuck in the field—on an early-morning bird-watching trip near campus or on Kent Island—was a treasured memory. He shared his knowledge and enthusiasm freely, and students came away from each trip with their powers of observation heightened and with an enhanced appreciation for the interconnectedness of the living world. Chuck trained students as field scientists, and whether they followed their curiosity and passion as professional or avocational naturalists, the experience would change their lives. In 1987 the Kent Island Fund was endowed to mark Chuck’s eightieth birthday, and in 1997, gifts from alumni established the Huntington-Wheelwright Field Station Endowment. The funds recognize the important work being done on Kent Island to advance science and to shape the lives of the students who engage in research there.

Chuck is survived by his wife, Louise S. Huntington, whom he married on December 22, 1956; three children, William E. Huntington, Katherine C. Huntington, and Sarah C. Huntington; and four granddaughters and a grandson. He was predeceased by a son, George S. Huntington. 

There will be a memorial service for Chuck  at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 4, at the Kellogg Church in Harpswell.  

We share with Chuck’s family, colleagues, former students, and many friends a deep sense of loss at his passing. We also are grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to share in Chuck’s life and to experience his love of life as a teacher, colleague, and friend.

Sincerely,

Clayton