National Audubon Society: Wikis


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National Audubon Society
Abbreviation NAS
Formation 1905
Type Non-profit organization
Purpose/focus Humane protection of birds
Headquarters New York, NY
Coordinates 40°43′45.2129″N 74°0′18.7596″W / 40.729225806°N 74.005211°W / 40.729225806; -74.005211
Region served USA
President & CEO Frank Gill
Main organ Board of Directors

The National Audubon Society is an American non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservancy. Incorporated in 1905, it is one of the oldest of such organizations in the world. It is named in honor of John James Audubon, a Franco-American ornithologist and naturalist who painted, cataloged, and described the birds of North America in his famous book Birds of America published in sections between 1827 and 1838.

The society has many local chapters, each of which is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization voluntarily affiliated with the National Audubon Society, which often organize birdwatching field trips and conservation-related activities. It also coordinates the Christmas Bird Count held each December in the U.S., an example of citizen science. Together with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it created eBird, an online database for bird observation.

The society's main offices are in New York City and Washington, D.C., and it has state offices in about thirty states. It also owns and operates a number of nature centers open to the public, located at bird refuges, urban settings and other natural areas, as part of its mission to educate the public about birds and to preserve avian and other habitats.



Former Headquarters of National Audubon Society in New York.

Grinnell's contribution

The NAS has its roots in one hunter's love for wildlife and his desire to see winged creatures proliferate and not perish. In 1886 Forest and Stream editor George Bird Grinnell was appalled by the negligent mass slaughter of birds that he saw taking place. As a boy, Grinnell had avidly read Ornithological Biography, a seminal work by the great bird painter John James Audubon; he also attended a school for boys conducted by Lucy Audubon. So when Grinnell decided to create an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs, he did not have to go far for its namesake.

The public response to Grinnell's call for the protection of fowl was said to be instant and impressive: Within a year of its foundation, the early Audubon Society claimed 39,000 members, each of whom signed a pledge to "not molest birds." Prominent members included jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Such an organization was not wholly new.

American Ornithologists' Union

The American Ornithologists' Union, founded in 1883, was already aware of the dangers facing many birds in the United States. There were however influential ornithologists who defended the collection of birds. In 1902 Charles B Cory, the president elect of the AOU refused to attend a meeting of the District of Columbia Audubon Society stating that "I do not protect birds. I kill them."[1]

Birds in the US were threatened by hunting for sport as well as for the fashion industry. Pressure from shooting enthusiasts was intense. Great auks, for example, whose habit of crowding together on rocks and beaches made them especially easy to hunt, had been driven to extinction early in the century. During one week in the spring of 1897, nature author Florence Merriam claimed to have seen 2,600 robins for sale in one market stall in Washington alone. By the turn of the century, the sale of bird flesh was never greater. The second equally great threat to the bird population was the desire for their plumage. In the late 1890s the American Ornithologists' Union estimated that five million birds were killed annually for the fashion market. In the final quarter of the 19th century, plumes, and even whole birds, decorated the hair, hats, and dresses of women.

But public opinion soon turned on the fashion industry. Bolstered by the support of hunter/naturalist President Theodore Roosevelt, who was an avowed Audubon Society sympathizer, and a widespread letter-writing campaign driven by church associations, many of whom distributed the Audubon message in their various newsletters, the plume trade was ultimately eradicated by such laws as the New York State Audubon Plumage Law (1910), which banned the sales of plumes of all native birds in the state.

In 1918, the NAS actively lobbied for the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the 1920s, the organization also played a vital role in convincing the U.S. government to protect vital wildlife areas by including them in a National Wildlife Refuge system. The association also purchased critical areas itself and, to this day, continues to maintain an extensive sanctuary system. The largest is the 26,000-acre (110 km2) Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in Louisiana, acquired in 1924. After nearly three-quarters of a century, the National Wildlife Refuge Campaign remains a key component of overall NAS policy.

Audubon Magazine

The society's flagship journal is the profusely illustrated magazine, Audubon, on subjects related to nature, with a special emphasis on birds. New issues are published bi-monthly for society members.[2]

Prosperity through publication

In 1934, with membership at a low of 3,500, and with the nation in the throes of the Great Depression, John H. Baker became the NAS president. Baker, a World War I aviator and ardent bird lover, was also a businessman, and he set about to invigorate the society and bolster its budget. Baker's innovation was to begin publishing book-length descriptive and illustrated field guides on major forms of bird and mammal life. Soon, in association with New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the Audubon Field Guides became a staple of every artist's and environmentalist's library.

Nature centers and refuges

Audubon front lobby at its present headquarters in New York City.

Nature centers and wildlife sanctuaries have long been an important part of Audubon's work to educate and inspire the public about the environment, its importance, and how to conserve it. Some of the organization’s earliest nature centers are still teaching young and old alike about the natural world. Those include the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in New York, established in 1923, and the Audubon Center of Greenwich, Connecticut, founded in 1943. From these beginnings, Audubon continued to expand its network of centers. In the late 20th century, the organization began to place a new emphasis on the development of Centers in urban locations, including Brooklyn, New York; East Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington. Audubon's national network currently includes more than 45 nature centers and 150 sanctuaries nationwide.

Modern issues: DDT, the prairie dog, and politics

During the post-World War II period, the NAS was consumed by the battle over the pesticide DDT. As early as 1960, the society circulated draft legislation to establish pesticide control agencies at the state level. In 1962 the publication of Silent Spring by long-time Audubon member Rachel Carson gave the campaign against "persistent pesticides" a huge national forum. Following her death in 1964, the NAS established a fund devoted strictly to the various legal fights in the war against DDT.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, the society began to use its influence to focus attention on a wider range of environmental issues and became involved in developing major new environmental protection policies and laws. Audubon staff and members helped legislators pass the Clean Air, Clean Water, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Endangered Species acts. In 1969 the society opened an office in Washington, D.C., in an effort to keep legislators informed of Audubon's priorities.

By the 1970s, NAS had also extended to global interests. One area that NAS became actively involved with was whaling. Between 1973 and 1974 alone, the poorly-regulated whaling industry had succeeded in eliminating 30,000 whales. But by 1985, following the 37th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Bournemouth, England, which was attended by officials from the National Audubon Society and other U.S.-based environmental organizations, a worldwide moratorium on whale "harvesting" was approved. So successful has this moratorium been in restoring populations of many whales, that "non-consumptive uses of whales" may once again be permitted in some areas.

In 1995, NAS elected as its president John Flicker, attorney and the former General Counsel and head of The Nature Conservancy's Florida State Program. In his leadership of The Nature Conservancy, Flicker raised funds for purchasing key Everglades and unique wilderness lands in Florida. A seasoned lobbyist, Flicker has set about increasing NAS presence in the halls of Congress. High atop his list of goals for the NAS in the late 20th century was the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling interests and the uniting with rainforest activists to protect tropical hardwood areas from excessive deforestation.

Drilling for natural gas

The Audubon society opposes drilling for gas on national reserves. Natural gas has been drilled for and produced at its Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary. The society said it was legally compelled to allow gas and oil drilling at the sanctuary under the terms of the land's donation by its original owners. Proponents of drilling in wildlife sanctuaries, like the Property and Environment Research Center, have argued this makes Audubon's opposition to drilling on protected lands hypocritical.[3]

The August 26, 2009 letter, 300+ Groups Ask Senate for Stronger Climate Bill, included the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, Champaign County Audubon Society, Delaware Audubon Society, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, Huachuca Audubon Society, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Sequoia Audubon Society, and Audubon South Carolina.

Popular culture references

In Ian Fleming's novel Dr. No (1958), secret agent James Bond discusses the society with his superior Miles Messervy; the Society complained that some migratory birds (roseate spoonbills) on the guano island owned by Julius No are seeing their nesting sites disturbed and destroyed. The organization is unflatteringly described as a "club made up of old spinsters".

The Society is mentioned in the song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" by Tom Lehrer.


  1. ^ Moss, Stephen (2004) A Bird in the Bush: A social history of Birdwatching. Aurum Press. p. 78
  2. ^ [1] National Audubon Society website, membership benefits-Audubon Magazine
  3. ^


  • Frank Graham, Jr., The Audubon Ark: A History of the National Audubon Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990) ISBN 0-394-58164-4

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