Dave Cutler 1925-2004
By Andy Ednie
It is with sad heart that I share the news of the passing of Dave Cutler. Dave was a friend and mentor to many young birders throughout the Delaware valley. He started at the early age of 12, under the guidance of his older brother Herb. Dave’s birding career was interrupted for a brief period visiting the Pacific at Uncle Sam’s expense. I’m not sure about his exact age, only guessing. Dave told me once that he lied about his age of 16 to joined the navy on December 7th, 1941. He thought that the December 1941 Bombay Hook Christmas Count might be the last one he’d ever participate. Luckily for us, he enjoy 58 more counts, 53 as compiler. He hitchhiked to Mexico, spent time collecting for museums (LSU), and toured the tropics extensively. He graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in Engineering, after three years. He told his sister he needed to get out and make money. He came back to Philadelphia to work as Walter Annenberg’s right hand man, setting up plants all over the country. He set up the color printing process for the Miami Herald, at that time it was unknown to have color pictures in newspapers. He eventually set up his own company for recycling paper, which still runs today.
Dave’s birding abilities are legendary, rivaling the history of Ludlow Griscom. Many of his birding stories were told in Chris Walter’s “Adventures in Birding: The Dave Cutler Story” from Larus, Spring 2004. I told Dave excitedly 3 years ago about a Yellow Rail we found in April at Bombay Hook. His comment was “oh yeah, we had them there with Buckalew back in 1938”. The Lapwing found on the 2000 Bombay Hook Count by Martin Selzer and Bert Filemyr was in the exact same spot as the one found by Johnny Miller in 1952. It was impossible to get “one up” on him. He’d regale you with stories of Henslow’s Sparrow, Sandhill Crane, and Mourning Warblers. He was always as excited about your finds, while quietly telling you about his. His record for 201 species on a Delaware Big Day still stands. The list of birders on his “Century Runs” is a who’s who of birding’s best: Kenn Kaufman, Ted Parker, Pete Dunne, Bob Pyle, Arnold Small, Will Russell, Jeff Gordon and Davis Finch.
But Dave was much more then just seeing birds. He was co-editor of the Hudson-Delaware region for what is now North American Birds when I first meet him in 1969, 35 years ago. Compiling region-wide records is a yeoman’s task, that he did for forty years. He was member of DVOC for 60 years, elected an honorary member last year. He was a charter member of DOS. He was influential in the initial studies of shorebirds in Delaware Bay, keeping the bay intact within one region for reporting in NAB. Dave’s three greatest accomplishments were the encouragement of youth birding, creating a spirit of cooperation, not animosity among birders, and always act as a gentleman.
Dave Cutler will be sorely missed by the birding community. His life will be remembered for his contributions to the science of ornithology. One of his daughters pre-deceased him. Dave leaves behind his son and daughter, three brothers and a sister, and his good friend Kieren. If you have a good Dave Cutler story, please pass it along to me. I’d like to collect them for later publication.