NYC Audubon to Change Name
American Kestrel. Photo: David Zieg / Audubon Photography Awards
NYC Audubon to Change Name to Better Reflect Its Values, Mission, and Work
After months-long deliberation and discussion, organization concluded that a new name would better fulfill its mission to engage all New Yorkers in a love of birds and in taking conservation action.
NEW YORK, NY – The board of directors of New York City Audubon, a leading urban conservation organization, announced today that it will change its name as part of its continuing commitment to being an inclusive organization that is welcoming to all New Yorkers. The organization, which was founded by grassroots activists in 1979 and is now one of the largest independent local chapters in the Audubon network, wants to better reflect its values and mission of promoting bird conservation and habitat protection to New Yorkers and others of all backgrounds.
The organization undertook a deliberate and thoughtful assessment over eight months and considered how the Audubon name impacts its strategic goals, mission, and values. The nonprofit acknowledged that John James Audubon’s contributions to art and ornithology are significant and laid a foundation for an appreciation of nature and a conservation ethos in this country, but decided his views and actions toward Black people and Indigenous people were harmful and offensive. After communication with hundreds of its supporters, members, and partners, the organization found that the Audubon name created a barrier to entry for many into the organization and its work protecting urban biodiversity in New York City.
“We are an urban conservation organization and we need to reflect the diversity of the City and the values of the community, which we share. We feel this is the moment to do so,” said Karen Benfield, board president of NYC Audubon. "North American bird populations have dropped by nearly a third since 1970 and that is a crisis. To protect them we need wide support, as many voices as possible, and that is not served by having a name that is divisive and has such deeply negative connotations for so many, both within and outside of our organization.”
NYC Audubon has made equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA) a central part of its work. “This is a thrilling moment for our organization,” said board member Angie Co, co-chair of the organization’s EDIA board committee. “Our founding members wanted to protect bird habitat and share birding with others. Now we have the chance to take the next inclusive step by changing our name."
The organization is increasing its efforts to ensure every New Yorker has access to the natural world, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, ability, or socioeconomic status. Alongside hundreds of free bird outings across the five boroughs, the organization's new initiatives this spring include outings in partnership with New York City Housing Authority at public housing developments around the City, and the publication of a Spanish-English bird guide.
“Names may be symbolic, but symbols matter,” said Jessica Wilson, NYC Audubon executive director. “They matter to staff, to volunteers, to members, and to the larger conservation community. We collaborate widely with our partners across the five boroughs, and want this name change to signal how much we value and seek broadly cooperative efforts to save wild birds.”
The organization’s conservation efforts focus on making New York City safer for migratory birds. They include reducing bird/building collisions and leading in the passage of laws that require the use of bird-safe glass in new construction, protecting the waterbirds that depend on the coastal habitat and islands of New York Harbor, and creating habitat for urban wildlife including with green roofs.
“Our name will change, but our conservation and advocacy work is the same. It has been our mission and focus for more than 40 years and we are excited to build our audience for such critical endeavors,” said board member Marsilia Boyle, co-chair of NYC Audubon’s Conservation committee.
“New York is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world," said Kyu Lee, chair of NYC Audubon’s Engagement committee. “If we're serious about our conservation efforts, then changing our name is one step towards meaningfully engaging with a younger, wider, and more diverse group of people that will help get us there."
NYC Audubon is part of a national network of local, independent chapters affiliated with the National Audubon Society, which recently announced its plan to keep the Audubon name after a year-long deliberation. Many chapters around the country have undergone similar processes to assess the Audubon name; several other chapters, including those in Seattle, Madison, Portland, Chicago, and Washington DC, have announced their intentions to change. Despite bearing a different name, the former NYC Audubon will remain a chapter of National Audubon and continue its essential, longstanding collaborations with Audubon organizations throughout the country to effectively conserve birds and their habitats amid a global climate crisis and widespread habitat degradation.
“Our work with chapters along the Atlantic Flyway and across the country will continue,” said Mike Yuan, board executive vice president of NYC Audubon, and the board’s representative to the NY/CT Audubon chapter council. “The critical issues facing birds require everyone to work together.”
“A diversity of birds depends on a diversity of people,” said Christian Cooper, a vice president of the organization’s board of directors who sits on the EDIA committee. “Instead of letting our name be a barrier to reaching more people, we’re seizing this opportunity to tell ever-wider audiences who we are and what we do: protect birds and their habitats, to the benefit of all New Yorkers.”
The organization has not yet announced its new name, but says that it will be chosen through a robust process that involves input from a wide group of stakeholders. For more information, please visit nycaudubon.org/audubon-name
NYC Audubon champions nature in the city’s five boroughs through a combination of engaging programs and innovative conservation campaigns. An independent non-profit organization affiliated with the National Audubon Society, NYC Audubon protects over 350 species of birds living in or passing through the 30,000 acres of wetlands, forests, and grasslands of New York City. Find us on nycaudubon.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@nycaudubon)
Associate Director, Communications
Associate Director, Communications