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Dr. Robert F. Andrle, noted ornithologist and conservationist, dies at 90

Oct. 28, 1927 – Oct. 29, 2017

As an ornithologist, Robert F. Andrle traveled the world, conducting research on birds.

Back at home, he was a longtime employee of the Buffalo Museum of Science, an accomplished writer, and instrumental in the founding of Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature Preserve.

The region's senior ornithologist died Sunday of Alzheimer's disease in Chautauqua Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Dunkirk. He was 90.

Dr. Andrle was born in Buffalo and graduated from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in 1944. He graduated from Canisius College in 1948 and earned a master's degree in geography from the University at Buffalo in 1960. He earned a doctorate in biogeography from Louisiana State University in 1964.

Dr. Andrle served in the Army as a member of the 69th Infantry Division and in Europe with the 7th Army Engineers. He was a third-generation member of the 174th Infantry New York National Guard.

Dr. Andrle worked at the Buffalo Museum of Science for 30 years, starting in 1956. He was the longtime curator of vertebrate zoology, as well as the associate and acting director. Dr. Andrle was a fellow of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences starting in 1942, and the longtime statistician and editor of The Prothonotary, the monthly publication of the Buffalo Ornithological Society.

Robert Andrle, in 2004 at Times Beach. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

His work took him to places like Central and South America and the Caribbean. He led a research expedition in the Sierra de Tuxtla mountain range in Veracruz, Mexico, to study the wildlife, vegetation and landscape. He studied the Horned Guan in southern Mexico and Guatemala, and the Whistling Warbler on the island of St. Vincent. More recently, he completed a chapter on his experiences conducting field research in Mexico and Guatemala.

Dr. Andrle's work at home was also influential. He and Janet Carroll co-edited "The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State," completed in 1988. Buffalo News columnist Gerry Rising in 2000 praised Dr. Andrle for organizing more than 4,300 of the state's birders to survey the breeding activities of the 242 species, plus three hybrids, that nested within the state's boundaries, and supervising a team that summarized the information and illustrated it.

"If Andrle had done nothing else over his long and distinguished career – and he has done a great deal – this publication would ensure that his name would be included on the roster of exceptional state ornithologists," Rising wrote.

At various times, he was editor, author and reviewer for American Birds, the Kingbird and the Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, and he was author of more than 75 scientific papers and popular articles.

Dr. Andrle advocated for establishing Tifft Nature Preserve and was a consultant to the Tifft Advisory Board. He also was a key part of a decades-long effort to transform what had been a dumping ground for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into the Times Beach Nature Preserve.

The Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve on its website said Dr. Andrle was "one of the first to notice that the place was located in a unique spot, at the confluence of the Buffalo and Niagara rivers and on the shores of Lake Erie, and that this unique location was very attractive to migrating and breeding birds." The persistence of Dr. Andrle and his fellow advocates paid off when the preserve was dedicated in 2004.

A trail there was named for Dr. Andrle in 2014. "We have been extremely lucky to have him in Western New York," the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve said on its website, when the trail was dedicated. The organization called him "one of the finest ornithological resources in North America."

After retiring from the Buffalo Museum of Science, Dr. Andrle led natural history tours to Trinidad, the West Indies, Costa Rica, Mexico and Venezuela. He worked as an environmental consultant with government agencies and private engineering and environmental firms.

In retirement, he also conducted field studies of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. He maintained a life-long interest in aviation and aircraft, attending air shows around the region.

Rising in 2008 wrote of Andrle: "May he long continue to contribute to the natural history of this region."

His legacy lives on in other ways. In a letter to Rising that same year, a reader named Frank Mocho recalled trying to visit the Buffalo Museum of Science in the early 1970s, when he was a Lancaster high school student interested in birdwatching. Mocho traveled there by bus but was turned away at the door, since he wasn't accompanied by an adult.

He wrote a letter to Dr. Andrle explaining what happened. Dr. Andrle called Mocho and brought him in for a behind-the-scenes tour, and introduced him to one of the museum's taxidermy technicians. The visit made an impression: Mocho went on to a degree in biology and a career in teaching science, and retained his interest in birds. "Thanks, Dr. Andrle, for helping me decide the road my life would take," he wrote.

Dr. Andrle is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Patricia R. Yates; three sons, Christopher, Timothy and Robert Jr.; a daughter, Elizabeth Foster; two brothers, Armand and Frederick; and a sister, Virginia.

No funeral services are planned.

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