A Letter from Our New Executive Director

Jessica G. Wilson  |  February 2, 2022

What an honor it is to serve as the new Executive Director of NYC Audubon. As a lifelong New Yorker and birder, and a NYC Audubon member and volunteer for years, I thought I knew the organization. I recognized its talented staff, its committed leadership from its Board of Directors and Advisory Council, its passionate cadre of scores of volunteers, and its effective network of on-the-ground partners. I’ve celebrated the organization’s recent successes in enacting the city’s most comprehensive bird-safe buildings laws, and passing new Lights Out legislation.

But that barely scratches the surface of what makes NYC Audubon so impactful. In my first week in the role, I’ve started to understand the decades of sound science and advocacy efforts that make up the legacy of the organization, and the work of the organization to engage a wide and diverse audience. 

Joining the NYC Audubon team is in many ways a homecoming for me. I discovered birds as a nature-loving city kid: walking through Central Park in what I know now was NYC Audubon’s second decade, I caught sight of a bird walk led by a real character with bright red hair and a wit to match. I must have seemed a novelty at that time—years younger than everyone else on the walk and with no knowledge of birds—and Sarah Elliot let me tag along. A few Saturday bird walks later and I stumbled onto the hawk-watching crowd of “regulars” down at the model-boat pond, scanning for glimpses of Pale Male across Fifth Avenue. I was hooked.

Fast forward several decades: I’ve dedicated my career to environmental conservation, building fundraising capacity and engaging new audiences with that mission. Though my work spans the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to work in two of New York City’s exceptional public spaces through my work at the Prospect Park Alliance and Friends of Governors Island. I understand the value of public-private partnerships and collaborative coalitions in affecting change.

I know I have big shoes to fill. My predecessor, Kathryn Heintz, adeptly led the organization for the past seven years, steering NYC Audubon to new heights and significant achievements in advocacy, conservation. and outreach. Her steady hand, especially during these past two difficult years of the COVID-19 pandemic, helped the organization not just stay afloat, but thrive. 

We’re at a pivotal moment for New York City and for NYC Audubon. The difficulties of the past two years have awakened in New Yorkers an increased interest in birding and nature, and a growing awareness of the need for environmental equity and for engaging diverse communities in conservation. The changing climate threatens more than 50 New York City bird species with loss of habitat and food sources. Artificial light pollution and reflective glass from our City’s buildings contribute to hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year. 

I look forward to meeting the challenges ahead. We will renew our push for comprehensive Lights Out legislation covering privately-owned buildings at both the City and State levels and work with property managers and government officials for effective implementation. We will continue our efforts to ensure New York City capitalizes on the vast potential of green roofs to combat climate change and provide habitat for wildlife. And we will continue to work toward making sure everyone feels included in our efforts, because work this important depends on everyone’s help to make the City a healthier, more livable place—for birds and New Yorkers. 

I can’t wait to get to know the organization’s many supporters, and I’d love to hear from you. What inspires you about the organization’s work? Have you had a chance to volunteer with one of our projects? What’s your favorite spot for birding across the five boroughs? Please drop me a line at jessica@nycaudubon.org.

Read more about Jessica in this Urban Audubon interview