Dr. Martin K. McNicholl

It is with great sadness that we report that Martin McNicholl passed away on Friday, December 15th. It is great loss to the birding community.

Martin was known as an ornithologist who made contributions both nationally and internationally. He joined the BCFO board in the early 90’s and was a long time editor of our journal, BC Birds, as well as a regular contributor to BC Birding. As a result of Martin’s contributions to ornithology, he was awarded the Steve Cannings Award at the BCFO AGM held in Pemberton in 2014.

The citation for Martin’s award presentation at the Pemberton AGM was published in the September 2014 issue of BC Birding. The citation appears below.


The Steve Cannings Award is presented annually by the British Columbia Field Ornithologists. It honours the memory of Stephen R. Cannings (1914-2003) of Penticton, BC, who was a much-loved and admired ornithologist, naturalist, nature photographer,conservationist, and mentor to many young and beginning
naturalists. The Cannings Award recognizes achievement in any or all of three areas: (1) research on bird biology or ecology, or detailed documentation of the birdlife of any part of BC; (2) conservation of birds or bird habitats in BC;
and (3) public education about birds in BC.

It should be noted that the Cannings award is mainly for contributions to ornithology in BC. Many of Martin‟s accomplishments have taken place in other provinces, and he is well-known as an ornithologist at the national and even international level. However, as he has made his home in BC for more than 20 years, and as many of his contributions were made in BC, we consider him to be a most worthy recipient of this award, and we have cited many of his accomplishments from other provinces as well.

Martin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on April 16, 1946, and grew up in the Winnipeg area. He became interested in birds at a very early age, and says that his first memory of a bird, at age 3, was a Common Loon yodeling as it flew
over a rowboat containing Martin, his father, and his grandfather. His interest in birds was encouraged and fostered by his aunt, Gertrude McNicholl, and a second cousin, Grace Keith, both of whom were keen birdwatchers. In addition to the immediate vicinity of Winnipeg, much of his early birding was done during the summers near Gimli, Manitoba (on Lake Winnipeg) and in the lake country near Ingolf, Ontario (west of Kenora), around property owned by his relatives.

Martin enrolled in a Zoology program at the University of Manitoba, and earned a bachelor‟s degree (Honours Zoology) in 1968. While an undergraduate, he met Dr. Roger Evans, who employed him one summer to do surveys of waterbirds and Sharp-tailed Grouse. He then embarked on a M.Sc. program under Dr. Evans, and completed his Master‟s thesis on Forster‟s Tern biology in 1971. For his Ph.D. work, Martin moved to Edmonton and studied Blue Grouse (now called Sooty Grouse) biology under Dr. Fred Zwickel. However, his study area, where he did research for four summers, was in the Comox Burn on Vancouver Island. Martin‟s Ph.D. dissertation, which he completed in 1978, was entitled Behavioural and Social Organization in a Population of Blue Grouse on Vancouver Island.

After completing his Ph.D., Martin worked for several environmental consulting firms between B.C. and Ontario. From 1984 to 1987, he served as General Manager and Executive Director of the Long Point Bird Observatory, now part of Bird Studies Canada. Since moving to B.C., and until recently, he has worked mainly at the Vancouver International Airport, first for LGL Environmental Research Associates and then with Airport Wildlife Management International, with the objective of managing birds on the airport and reducing bird hazards to aircraft.

Martin is widely known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific literature of ornithology, and for his strong abilities as a writer and editor. He has published dozens of articles and short notes in scientific journals. He edited
Manitoba Bird Studies: a Bibliography of Manitoba Ornithology (1975), and was senior editor of A Bibliography of Alberta Ornithology (1981), as well as
Ornithology in Ontario (1994), a 400-page historical review of ornithology and ornithologists in Ontario. He also authored 45 entries in the Canadian Encyclopedia, mainly dealing with birds and natural history. Finally, for more than 30 years, he was in charge of the “Recent Literature” section of the North American Bird Bander.

Martin has served in many volunteer capacities, and has always been willing to donate his time to worthwhile projects and activities. Over the years, he has served on more than 30 boards and committees from B.C. to Ontario.

For BCFO, he was the editor of our journal, British Columbia Birds, from 1994 to 2002, a time-consuming and exacting task. He has also been the compiler or co-compiler of the “Upcoming Meetings and Events” column in our newsmagazine for much of its history, and a valued member of the Awards Committee since its inception. In addition, he has served for many years on the Birding Section Committee of Nature Vancouver, and as the Program Chairman of the Langley Field Naturalists.

Given his many accomplishments and his generosity with his time, it will not surprise you that Martin has been the recipient of several previous awards. These include the Loran L. Goulden Award (1983) for contributions to the natural history of Alberta; being named an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists Union (1986); the Ernest Thompson Seton medal for contributions to Manitoba‟s natural history (1995); and being named an Honorary Life Member of both the Langley Field Naturalists (2001) and B.C. Field Ornithologists (2002).

In this brief citation, we have had to omit many of Martin McNicholl‟s accomplishments, particularly those that took place outside B.C. Nevertheless, we think it should be obvious to everyone that Martin is a most deserving
recipient of the Steve Cannings Award, and we take great pleasure in presenting it to him.

5 thoughts on “Dr. Martin K. McNicholl

  1. Very sad to hear. May he rest in peace and love and comfort go to his family and friends at this time of great sadness. They can be proud he left such a positive legacy in the birding community.

  2. Martin was most generous of his time in coaching me into duties as editor of the BCFO journal. Super friendly and helpful. A gentleman indeed. I regarded him highly and enjoyed meeting him again for some years at the annual meetings.

  3. I echo all the above comments about Martin and my condolences to his family and friends. He always had time to discuss anything birdy or ornithological; he was a true gentleman and a gentle man; and he always knew of a reference for any obscure piece of bird trivia you might be looking for. He and I worked together in Alberta for almost 8 years (Edmonton Naturalists, Edmonton Bird Club, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Provincial Museum of Alberta) in the 1970s and in Ontario (at CWS and the Ontario Field Ornithologists) in the 1980s and 1990s. It was certainly Ontario’s loss when he moved to B.C. …..but he did not like our winters. I spoke with him about a year ago; his health had deteriorated. I will miss him dearly.

  4. I remember Marty well from our time on the board of the North American Loon Fund and the then-Colonial Waterbird Society (now Waterbird Society). Once when discussing the tiny loon populations in several US border states, when asked about the status of loon populations in Canada, he floored the board members with his estimate of ‘well over half a million birds’. He was also a valuable contributor to the Waterbird Society and a great person to have by your side on our many field trips. I am sorry to hear that he has died. Iola Price

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