A copy of this letter was sent to the Speaker of the House and all State Judiciary Committee members in the Georgia House of Representatives on February 26, 2024.
On behalf of Birds Georgia members across the state, we are writing today to express our opposition to House Bill 370. This bill is a threat to more than 50 years of salt marsh protection in Georgia and could have catastrophic impacts on our salt marsh resources and the many species of birds that rely on them.
Birds Georgia’s mission is to build places where birds and people thrive. We fulfill our mission through education, conservation, and community engagement. With more than 2,500 members and more than 5,000 National Audubon Society members from across the state, Birds Georgia represents a broad constituency united by a desire to protect birds and other wildlife. Our constituents include Georgia residents, frequent visitors, and concerned citizens who understand the both the significance and beauty of Georgia’s salt marshes for birds.
Please consider the following:
— This bill would effectively remove the marsh as part of the public trust doctrine. The new standard would open the door for more hardening of our shorelines, which would also remove native habitat, impacting wading birds and key migratory species that rely on the marsh for nesting and resting habitat. It would also make coastal Georgia more vulnerable to storm surge and king tides.
— The unique curved coastline of the Georgia Bight results in large changes of water depth between low tide and high tide every day. This intertidal zone of extensive salt marshes, expansive sand and mud flats, and undisturbed areas of beach creates huge areas of potential food resources that are exposed by the receding tide. In recognition of the value to shorebirds in the Bight, there are three Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) sites encompassing much of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The loss and/or development of Georgia’s salt marshes could threaten our state’s designation as a WHSRN.
— The loss and/or development of our salt marshes in Georgia would have negative impact on the following bird species, to name a few: Saltmarsh Sparrow; Seaside Sparrow MacGillivray's subspecies, specifically); Nelson's Sparrow; Clapper Rail; Willet (the Eastern subspecies nests in Georgia’s marshlands); Marsh Wren (Worthington's subspecies, Georgia’s resident breeder); Eastern Black Rail (may already be extirpated from the state); Little Blue Heron; Tricolored Heron; Whimbrel; Roseate Spoonbill; Wood Stork; as well as other species of shorebirds that live year around or migrate through Georgia.
The bottom line is what's bad for birds, is bad for people too.
This bill has passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5-4. It is now sitting in Rules. We implore you to help stop the forward progress of this bill by either ensuring it does not pass out of Rules or that it gets committed to the House State Properties Committee.
HB370 should not pass. It goes too far and could destroy coastal Georgia's most iconic landscape and the birds on which they depend.
Thank you for your consideration.
By Logan Jones, Habitat Program Specialist
Birds Georgia has a new tool in their toolbox. Recently, members of the Birds Georgia conservation team—consisting of Sebastian Hagan, Sarah Tolve, and Logan Jones—underwent comprehensive fire training led by the IBT (Interagency Burn Team) at Hard Labor Creek State Park.
This particular training, encompassed a pack test, online coursework, and physical training, and was designed to equip participants with an FFT2 certification (wildland firefighter type II) that aligns seamlessly with Birds Georgia’s commitment to ecological restoration.
The IBT is an agreement between private, state, and federal partners that are focused on burning to help rare wildlife. Some of the IBT organizations include the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), The Orianne Society, The Longleaf Alliance, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Tall Timbers, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, and The Georgia Forestry Commission. Many of these organizations also sent staff to join in training and to lead activities such as fire shelter deployment, burn plan management, pacing and orienteering, pumps, engines, hoses, and so much more.
The recent training not only strengthened staff expertise but also solidified Birds Georgia’s desire to actively engage in prescribed fires in partnership with IBT. Our goal is to align Birds Georgia’s conservation efforts with burning whenever feasible, recognizing the ecological benefits it brings to our landscapes.
Prescribed fires have been proven to be instrumental in fostering early successional songbird habitat. Strategic burns create open spaces and clearings that are conducive to the growth of native vegetation, providing crucial nesting sites and foraging opportunities for early successional songbirds. These intentional fires mimic natural ignition processes, promoting biodiversity and maintaining the balance of ecosystems. Furthermore, prescribed fires help reduce the accumulation of dense vegetation, which can otherwise hinder the growth of native plants and limit the availability of suitable habitats for songbirds. By restoring a more open and diverse landscape through controlled burns, Birds Georgia is able to enhance the overall health of the ecosystem and create conditions that are particularly favorable for the flourishing of early successional bird populations.
As we look ahead, Birds Georgia conservation staff are eager to employ their new certifications by contributing to prescribed burns in collaboration with the IBT. This new certification better positions our staff to support organizations across the state that conduct burns, including our partners at the DNR. In recent years, Birds Georgia has been collaborating with DNR to restore bird habitat at Panola Mountain State Park, including a restoration meadow that would benefit from a prescribed fire treatment in the coming year.
Stay tuned for updates as Birds Georgia continues to work with partners to foster and improve healthy ecosystems through informed and strategic fire management practices. Together, Birds Georgia aims to kindle positive change and preserve the ecological balance of our landscapes for birds and future generations.
Each spring and fall, Birds Georgia volunteers patrol Project Safe Flight Georgia routes around the state looking for birds that have been injured or killed by building collisions. This project aims to determine what species are colliding with buildings, how many birds are affected, what parts of town are problematic, and what can be done to make Georgia's cities more bird-friendly.
Since the program began in 2015, more than 2,200 birds, representing 115 different species, have been collected. This infographic shows numbers from our fall surveys.
If you'd like to learn more about Project Safe Flight Georgia or to become a volunteer, visit our Project Safe Flight Georgia page.
L to R, top to bottom: Beth Blalock, Michael Chriszt, Colleen McEdwards, Sally Sears
Birds Georgia welcomed four new directors elected by members to the Board of Directors at their annual meeting on December 3. Beth Allgood Blalock, Michael Chriszt, Colleen McEdwards, and Sally Sears were elected for three-year terms beginning January 1, 2024. In addition, Joshua Andrews, Robert Cooper, Marc Goncher, and Susan Maclin will return to the Board of Directors for a second three-year term. Marc Goncher, Senior Legal Counsel, Environmental, Safety and Sustainability for The Coca-Cola Company, will succeed Paige Martin as Board Chair when her term ends on December 31.
Beth Allgood Blalock is an attorney with Gilbert Harrell and has a wide range of experience working on land-based environmental issues. Her primary practice areas include environmental regulatory, compliance, and permitting issues, and the acquisition and redevelopment of properties with environmental impacts. She serves as a lecturer on brownfields and regulatory issues in Georgia, sits on the board of the Georgia Brownfield Association and the Georgia Environmental Conference Steering Committee and is currently an adjunct professor at the Georgia State University College of Law. Beth is the lead facilitator of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and a 2016 IGEL graduate. She and her husband reside in Atlanta with their two children.
Michael Chriszt is vice president and regional engagement officer in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Corporate Engagement Division. In this role, he serves as the Atlanta Fed’s lead public engagement officer focusing on smaller cities and towns in the Sixth District. Mike has served on several boards, most recently as Chair of the Georgia Council on Economic Education and on the executive committee of Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. He is a member of the National Association of Business Economists and the Atlanta Economics Club, where he served as president from 2015 to 2017. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Mike is married to Maxine and they have five children and three grandchildren.
Colleen McEdwards is an online instructor with the University of Florida’s renowned distance-learning graduate program in communication and media studies (CJC Online). She designs and delivers online courses in video storytelling. After a 30-year career in international media at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CNN International, Colleen transitioned to academia, helping new generations of communicators discover what’s next for digital media. She has taught at the Sam Nunn School of International affairs (Georgia Tech), Georgia State University, and Kennesaw State University. Prior to her transition to academia, Colleen spent almost 20 years as an anchor and correspondent for CNN International. Colleen earned a Ph.D. in Education while working at CNN International, partnering with CNN’s international affiliates throughout the process. She is a United States/Canadian citizen, a former competitive athlete and an avid sports fan.
Sally Sears, an award-winning news reporter and author, is a founding director of the South Fork Conservancy. The Trust for Public Land named her its 2015 Trail Blazer for her leadership of the vision of linking communities with low-impact trails along the South Fork and other tributaries of Peachtree Creek. Her environmental and community work is an outgrowth of decades of news reporting in growing cities across the South. Special televised reports on solutions to north Georgia’s growth issues of water, land use, and traffic helped her find the broader community connections to create cooperation among partners. Sally covered politics and suburban growth for metro Atlanta television stations, including WAGA and WSB TV, since 1984. She served as the founding chair of the DeKalb County watershed oversight committee in 2009. Sally is a native of Montevallo, Alabama, and a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Richard Belcher, and their son, Will.
“We are excited to welcome Beth, Michael, Colleen, and Sally to the Birds Georgia Board of Directors,” says Paige Martin, outgoing board chair. “These individuals bring a wealth of talents and experiences to the Board that will help Birds Georgia fulfill its mission of building places where birds and people thrive.”
Additional Birds Georgia board members include Paige Martin, Scott Porter, Esther Stokes, Joshua Gassman, Laurene Hamilton, Gus Kaufman, Mary Anne Lanier, Jennifer Johnson McEwen, Ellen Miller, Jon Philipsborn, Marlena Reed, James Renner, LaTresse Snead, Amy Beth Sparks, and Ayanna Williams.
For more information on Birds Georgia visit https://www.birdsgeorgia.org/.
About Birds Georgia: Birds Georgia is building places where birds and people thrive. We create bird-friendly communities through conservation, education, and community engagement. Founded in 1926 as the Atlanta Bird Club, the organization became a chapter of National Audubon in 1973, and continues as an independent chapter of National Audubon Society today. We look forward to celebrating the 100- year anniversary of our organization in 2026. Learn more at https://www.birdsgeorgia.org/.
by Sarah Tolve, Coastal Conservation Coordinator for Birds Georgia
The sun has yet to rise, but staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Birds Georgia are gearing up for the chance to shine a light on the wintering habits of one of Georgia’s state-listed species of concern — the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus).
Launching from Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA DNR Biologists Tim Keyes and Chris Depkin were joined by Birds Georgia's Coastal Conservation Coordinator, Sarah Tolve, for a chilly day on the water. Tim hopes to survey the salt marsh and adjacent shell rakes (elevated oyster shell ridges along the marshside) for non-breeding American Oystercatchers and report banded birds back to their home states.
Over the course of the winter, Tim’s team will survey Georgia’s entire 100-mile coastline for Oystercatchers. Sounds easy? Not when you consider that Georgia holds approximately 368,000 acres of salt marsh in those one hundred miles. On the Atlantic seaboard, Georgia is surpassed in acres of salt marsh only by South Carolina.
Nestled between the Ogeechee and Altamaha Rivers, the salt marshes of Liberty and McIntosh Counties support countless numbers of birds, fishes, invertebrates, and marine mammals.
During the winter (non-breeding) season, as the tide approaches peak high tide, large groups of American Oystercatchers congregate on marsh islands, sandy beaches, and oyster rakes -- making it slightly easier to observe large numbers of birds and survey for bands. As the tide recedes, birds begin to disperse to feed on intertidal mudflats and shellfish beds, and waterways become increasingly difficult to navigate (due to Georgia’s six to eight foot tidal fluctuation).
In a typical winter, Georgia’s American Oystercatcher population numbers 900 to 1,100 individuals. During the breeding season, Georgia supports approximately 120 breeding pairs, mostly on undeveloped barrier islands and shell rakes.
Tim and team choose to survey two hours on either side of high tide to yield the best results. This gives a survey window of 4 hours -- enough time to cover a few known roosting sites. If conditions allow, and the birds are present, Tim surveys the group for bands using a spotting scope or a camera equipped with a long lens to prevent disturbance to the flock.
After a quick scan and count of the flock, he estimates the ratio of subadults to adult birds in the group. Subadult birds will have a dusky brown tipped bill, while adults will be vivid orange with a faint yellow tip. Last, he looks for colored field-readable leg bands -- the color of the band corresponds to a certain state’s banding program. Florida and Georgia bands are red, South Carolina uses dark blue, North Carolina uses green, Virginia uses black, New York and New Jersey use orange, and Massachusetts and Connecticut use yellow.
Whew! That’s a lot to remember. Good thing there’s a comprehensive resource for all things American Oystercatcher -- the American Oystercatcher Working Group (amoywg.org/.) We resighted red, yellow, green, black, and dark blue bands while on this survey.
Why band birds?
Bird banding data is useful in both scientific research and management and conservation projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth (USGS). By applying bands pre-fledging, an individual bird can be resighted over its lifetime without the need to capture it again. Typically made of metal or durable plastic, the bands are built to withstand the elements without being too cumbersome for the birds to carry over their lifetimes.
Mark-resight (banding) studies coordinated by the American Oystercatcher Working Group have provided critical information, including linkages of breeding and wintering sites, rates of adult and juvenile survival, and relative importance of migration and wintering areas. These efforts are sustained through a long-term coordinated monitoring program (like Tim is leading here in Georgia) and help to inform management decisions and strategies.
Although it has taken persistence and the commitment of many partners from Massachusetts to Texas, the North American population of American Oystercatchers has risen by approximately 50% -- an increase from roughly 10,971 birds in 2003 to roughly 14,735 in twenty years. (S. Shulte, Manomet, 2023)
Predation of eggs and chicks, habitat loss or degradation due to sea level rise, and human disturbance continue to be major hurdles for oystercatchers population-wide. In a time when shorebird populations are on the decline globally, conservation successes such as this deserve praise.
An adult American Oystercatcher stands on a shell rake composed of oyster shells with Spartina alterniflora (Smooth Cordgrass) in the background. Its bill is solid, vibrant orange, and its iris is lemony-yellow. It has a black head, dark brown wings, pink legs, and white chest. It towers over the nearby Least Sandpipers. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
How Can I Help?
You don’t need to be a wildlife biologist to make a difference for Georgia’s birds.
If you live on the coast, you can join Manomet in advocating as a Shorebird Steward on one of Georgia’s barrier islands. From Tybee to Saint Simons to Cumberland, Shorebird Stewards station themselves along areas where both birds and people congregate. Their priorities include, but are not limited to efforts to reduce human and pet disturbance on beach nesting birds and to build awareness through education and outreach. Manomet’s Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative hopes to inspire public appreciation and awareness of not only American Oystercatchers, but all shorebird and beach-nesting species we #ShareTheShore with.
Visit the coast from time to time? While visiting Georgia’s (or any state’s) beaches, be mindful of the inhabitants and the journeys they endured to be sitting alongside you. Some, like the Red Knot, are simply stopping for a quick meal before continuing on their twice-yearly 9,000 mile migration.
Coastal Connections - The Story of Red[AMC] and Blue[8X]
In the photo above stand three American Oystercatchers — two with bands, one without. The bird on the left stands on one leg, with a red band coded [AMC]. This bird was banded by GA DNR Biologist, Tim Keyes, on Raccoon Key (near Ossabaw Island) on June 6, 2018. It has been seen seven times since, all in Georgia. It breeds on Saint Catherine’s Island Bar, where it was seen on November 30 during this survey.
Conversely, the bird to the far right is banded with a dark blue band coded [8X]. This bird was banded in South Carolina in 2008 near Capers Island (north of Charleston) and has been resighted and reported just 10 times in the 15 years since.
Since the third (middle) bird is unbanded, it is unknown where it hatched, where it breeds, and any other details of its life history.
Thanks to information gathered by band-resight data, the lives of American Oystercatchers are beginning to be understood. An oystercatcher that was among the first banded in Georgia in 2001 was resighted in November 2022 by Sarah Tolve — making that bird over 20 years old today. It is even still paired with a mate and maintaining territory on Cumberland Island. Every band resight and report helps further the knowledge base of imperiled species like American Oystercatchers.
Although the salt marsh provides abundant food resources for the American Oystercatcher, it also provides the perfect perch for this Peregrine Falcon, who is known to prey on shorebirds. This bird's crop appeared very full and had likely just consumed a large meal. We also noted 4 adult Bald Eagles while on the survey route. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
Not only do American Oystercatchers enjoy roosting on the oyster shell rakes, American White Pelicans do as well! They have recently returned to the Georgia coast to winter, after spending the breeding season in California, Colorado, or Canada. Marshes are magnets for migrating birds and support birds from the smallest species, like Least Sandpiper, to the largest, like these White Pelicans and the Bald Eagle. Photo by Sarah Tolve/Birds Georgia.
Birds Georgia was delighted to present long-time volunteer Melinda Langston with the 2023 Scottie Johnson Spirit Award at the Holiday Party and Annual Meeting on Sunday, December 3.
Melinda has been a volunteer with Birds Georgia for many years. For several years, she managed the Wildlife Sanctuary Program before it was turned over to staff position. During her tenure as volunteer coordinator for that program, she revamped the requirements for certification, created a best practices document, and was a fantastic ambassador for the program bringing many new properties into the program AND spreading the word about the program to other organizations and to our members.
She later joined the Birds Georgia Board of Directors, where she served for several years. In recent years, Melinda has worked closely with the conservation program coordinator to certify properties that were due for certification visits, including properties further afield that are more difficult for our Avian Advocate volunteers to visit. When Birds Georgia's staff person left the organization, Melinda stepped in to catch up a backlog of certifications and is currently working with conservation program staff to update and modernize the certification process so that it can better address properties across the state. Melinda is a Birds Georgia Master Birder, a Master Naturalist, and a fantastic volunteer for Georgia Audubon!
About the Scottie Johnson Spirit Award
In 2018, Georgia Audubon lost an incredibly dedicated volunteer and dear friend, Eleanor Scott Johnson. "Scottie", as her family and friends called her, was an avid birder and long-time volunteer for Georgia Audubon. There wasn’t a task that Scottie wasn’t up for, whether that was giving educational presentations, walking a Project Safe Flight route, certifying wildlife sanctuaries, or writing the Ask Chippy column. Scottie always raised her hand to help us out. She was a nurse, a mother, a Master Birder, and a wonderful human being with an amazing spirit. Although we lost Scottie to cancer in 2018, we continue to celebrate her spirit, kindness, and perseverance annually by honoring an outstanding volunteer with the Scottie Johnson Spirit Award. Anne McCallum, a long-time volunteer with Georgia Audubon received the inaugural award in 2019, Charles Loeb was the 2020 recipient, Steve Phenicie received the award in 2021, and Mary Kimberly was recognized in 2022.
Birds Georgia commissioned a watercolor painting of a Red-headed Woodpecker by Amanda Woomer, Birds Georgia Board Member, to present to Melinda in recognition of her service to the organization.
By Sheridan Alford, Director of Community Engagement
The perfect wildlife guide for your young birder and explorer. Critters of Georgia, by Alex Troutman, is a great companion to the fun adventures that await in our Georgia backyards. The book features 63 critters from the Peach State. Each species is showcased with a professional-quality photograph paired with neat details such as habitat, range, and preferred food sources. Illustrations of the critter’s tracks complement the information, and a “Did You Know?” paragraph provides fascinating trivia. Critters of Georgia includes important-to-know mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Alex Troutman is a Fish and Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Educator passionate about sharing and immersing the younger generation in nature. Having grown up dreaming of being a wildlife biologist, Alex knows how pivotal it is to have representation within any field. Through his studies at Georgia Southern University, Alex has been able to focus on Conservation Biology and learn the best ways to communicate the need for Georgia’s beloved species. With a passion for nature that started when he was young, Alex was always amazed by the Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead when he went fishing with his family. He looked up to conservationists like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin. Now, he has made a career out of that passion and curiosity. You can find him camping, exploring nature with his dog, and birding in his spare time.
The way this pocket guide breaks down key information for each species with gorgeous photos to reference characteristics is perfect for any budding biologist. The “Bird” section even includes information about migration and nest sizes so children can understand the differences that make all of our Georgia species unique.
To learn more or purchase copies, visit the Adventure Keen Shop.
By Steve Phenicie
Sandhill Cranes are like NBA basketball players and NFL linemen – they’re big guys, among the largest birds found in Georgia. They stand three and half to four feet tall, have a wingspan of six to seven feet and weigh seven to 10 pounds. Although bulkier than a Great Blue Heron, they’re about the same size.
Within the last few decades, Sandhills have greatly expanded their nesting range and numbers in the upper Midwest but are still vulnerable to habitat loss. They reach their peak abundance at migratory stopover points on the Great Plains. The early spring gathering on the Platte River in Nebraska is among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent, with more than a quarter of a million birds present at once, emitting their loud, rolling, trumpeting sound.
This fall you may soon see them cruising around the Georgia sky – if you haven’t already – on their way to wintering grounds in Florida. Depending on conditions, some don’t go that far. Thousands gather at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on the Tennessee River near Birchwood, Tenn., and sometimes a few show up during Atlanta’s Christmas Bird Count. Other spots you might see them are the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area at Valdosta, and Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge along the Chattahoochee River between Georgia and Alabama. By contrast, some populations in Mississippi, Florida, and Cuba do not migrate.
These birds have a long neck, long, black legs, and a short tail covered by drooping feathers that form a “bustle.” The bill is longer than their small head. Sandhills are slate gray, often with a rusty wash on the upperparts. Adults have a pale cheek and red skin on the crown. Juveniles are gray and rusty brown, without the pale cheek or red crown.
Their diet varies widely with location and season. It includes insects, roots of aquatic plants, rodents, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds, berries, and seeds. They may eat lots of cultivated grain if they can get it.
Their habitat varies too, but they usually nest among marshy vegetation in water up to three feet deep, although sometimes on dry ground close to water. The nest, built by both sexes, consists of a mound of plant material. It may be built up from the bottom or may be floating, anchored to standing plants. The female usually lays two eggs but sometimes one or three. Chicks can leave the nest within eight hours of hatching and are even capable of swimming. They stay close to their parents for nine or 10 months.
Some cool facts about Sandhills:
The Georgia Audubon Board of Directors has voted to change the name of Georgia Audubon to Birds Georgia. This decision comes in response to troublesome revelations about the organization’s namesake – John James Audubon – which prompted the board to empanel a Name Task Force to explore what the “Audubon” name means in light of the organization’s work, mission, and constituency and how it might impact their ability to attract younger, diverse audiences in the years to come.
“Our work was not to sit in judgment of the man, but to understand how the Audubon name was either enabling or frustrating our ability to fulfill our mission of building places where birds and people thrive,” says Marc Goncher, vice-chair of the Board of Directors and chair of the Name Task Force. “From the process, we learned that there are fellow bird conservationists and prospective bird lovers who feel unwelcome when we use the Audubon name. As our state continues to diversify and new generations join the birding community, we foresee a declining awareness of the Audubon brand and reduction in positive association with what it was intended to represent. We also heard clearly that our name needs to reflect what our organization is all about … birds.”
The task force spent six months researching, discussing, and seeking to understand all points of view before forming a recommendation to present to the board. In this time, Georgia Audubon hosted a webinar and discussion with Gregory Nobles — biographer of John James Audubon: The Story of an American Woodsman — to better understand the man and his life. The task force also sent a survey to more than 10,000 members, donors, partners, and constituents to gather input on the Audubon name and how it relates to Georgia Audubon’s work, mission, and constituency. Additionally, the task force, leadership, and staff held numerous conversations with stakeholders to gather further feedback including hosting two listening sessions, one in-person and a second virtually, for constituents to share their thoughts.
“Our new name, Birds Georgia, states clearly what our work is all about, and it better reflects our values of inclusivity and openness to all people. There are many threats facing Georgia birds and their habitats, and it will take all of us working together to overcome these challenges. Birds Georgia looks forward to building upon the successes we achieved as Atlanta Audubon Society and, later, as Georgia Audubon, to achieve our vision of building a conservation-minded and fully-engaged Georgia where birds prosper, habitats flourish, and understanding grows. As we seek to engage the next generation of birders in the critical fight against conservation challenges, we must broaden and diversify the communities we work with across the state. We will be better able to do that as Birds Georgia,” says Executive Director Jared Teutsch.
Audubon has not always been part of the organization’s name. Established in 1926 as the Atlanta Bird Club, the organization later voted to become an independent chapter of National Audubon Society and changed to the name Atlanta Audubon Society. In 2020, the organization became Georgia Audubon, reflecting a new statewide focus. The organization will celebrate its Centennial Anniversary in 2026.
“While we may be changing our name to Birds Georgia, we are not changing our mission or the critical work we do to protect birds across the state,” says Board Chair Paige Martin. “The Board of Directors listened to the feedback we received and felt that Birds Georgia more intuitively states who we are and what we do. The new name is also more welcoming to people from all backgrounds. At a time when birds need our help more than ever, we do not want our name to be a barrier for anyone who would like to join in our work building places where birds and people thrive.”
Birds Georgia is among several independent Audubon chapters changing its name in light of revelations about John James Audubon. Other chapters, including Seattle, Portland, Madison, Chicago, Golden Gate, Detroit, Washington D.C, and others have either recently rebranded or announced their intent to move away from the Audubon name.
Birds Georgia will continue to be an independent chapter of National Audubon Society leveraging the nationwide network of bird conservation organizations to conserve birds and their habitats in Georgia and beyond.
Click the links below to learn more.
American Ornithological Society Announces Plans to Rename Birds Named for People: What Georgia Species will be Impacted?
By Steve Phenicie and Dottie Head
On November 1, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced that they will be renaming all English-language names of birds within their geographic jurisdiction that are named directly after people since some of these names carry associations with historic injustices.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology posted in support of this decision, “Determining which names to change case by case would be subjective and intractable. Changing all eponymous names is a clear standard. It also provides an exciting opportunity to generate bird names that are more informative about the birds themselves.”
There has been a movement afoot by some in the world of ornithology advocating that birds should carry descriptive names instead of those of individuals. For example, the Black-throated Green Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler are excellent descriptors for these birds. Their predominant characteristics are part of the name making them easier to identify and remember, especially for new birders learning to identify birds in the field.
We recognize that people will have different opinions about this process and the challenges of renaming so many species. In Georgia alone, we have more than 20 birds named for humans. Here are some birds you might at least occasionally see in Georgia that are named for people and a bit of insight into who these people were and why the birds were named after them (The list is not comprehensive).
Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Wilson’s Plover, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Wilson’s Warbler: When it comes to having Georgia birds named for him, Alexander Wilson is tops. Wilson (1766-1813), remembered as perhaps America’s greatest ornithologist prior to John J. Audubon, was born in Scotland and apprenticed as a weaver. He didn’t care for weaving but became interested in poetry. Wilson also wrote satirical commentary on the conditions of weavers in the mills. One of them offended a mill owner, which resulted in his arrest. He was often in trouble with the law, didn’t pay much attention to weaving, lived in poverty, and in 1794, emigrated to America. He settled in Pennsylvania, turned to teaching and met the famous naturalist William Bartram, who encouraged his interest in ornithology and painting. Resolved to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America, Wilson traveled widely, collecting and painting. The result was the nine-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814). Of the 268 species of birds illustrated in its pages, 26 had not previously been described. His bird illustrations were an inspiration for John J. Audubon and others. He is buried in Philadelphia.
Swainson’s Thrush and Swainson’s Warbler: William Swainson, like Alexander Wilson, had a lot of birds named for him although these are the only two found in Georgia. Swainson (1789-1855) was born in London and is remembered for his colorful drawings of nature, especially of shells and bird feathers. During his career Swainson published more than 40 works and traveled to Brazil, New Zealand and Australia to pursue his passion.
Franklin’s Gull: Named for Ben? Don’t bet the Liberty Bell on it. In 1832, on the first of two expeditions to northwestern Canada led by Sir John Franklin, ornithologists detected the bird we know as Franklin’s Gull, although they thought it was the similar Laughing Gull. On the subsequent expedition, Dr. John Richardson noted that it was a distinct species and named it Franklin’s Rosy Gull, in honor of the expedition leader. Franklin, an Arctic explorer who was born in England in 1786, was perhaps best-known for his ill-fated expedition in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage and died in 1847 near King William Island in what is now Nunavut territory, Canada. His two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, became stuck in ice, and their wreckage was not found until 2014 and 2016, respectively. Some members of his expedition turned to cannibalism in an attempt to survive.
Lincoln’s Sparrow: This one has nothing to do with that famous rail-splitter from Illinois. Lincoln's Sparrow was named by John J. Audubon after his buddy, Thomas Lincoln of Dennysville, Maine. Lincoln shot the bird on an expedition to Nova Scotia with Audubon in 1834. It pays to know people in high places.
Cooper’s Hawk: Again a case of rubbing elbows with the right person. The species was named by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in honor of his friend, William Cooper, who collected a specimen of it in 1828. Cooper (1798-1864) was an American naturalist, conchologist (shell zoologist) and collector. Although he was not an author himself, his specimens were of great help to others. Cooper was one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History (later the New York Academy of Sciences), and the first American member of the Zoological Society of London.
Forster’s Tern: Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) was a German Reformed (Calvinist) pastor and naturalist of partially Scottish descent who contributed to the early ornithology of Europe and North America. He is best known as the naturalist on James Cook's second Pacific voyage. Such expeditions promoted his career, and the findings helped set the stage for the development of anthropology and ethnology. They also laid the framework for general concern about the impact that alteration of the physical environment for European economic expansion would have on native societies.
Kirtland’s Warbler: This is a case of not who you know but what you own. This bird was named by Charles Pease for his father-in-law, Jared P. Kirtland, on whose farm near Cleveland, Ohio, the first specimen was collected. Kirtland (1793-1877) was a naturalist in his own right, however, and also an Ohio politician and physician. He was a co-founder of Western Reserve University's Medical School as well as what would become the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Brewer’s Blackbird: Thomas Mayo Brewer (1814-1880) was another crony of Audubon. Originally a doctor, he quit after a few years to concentrate on ornithology, writing, and politics. He also had a mole and a duck named for him. In his last decade of life, Brewer sparred with Elliott Coues over the fate of the House Sparrow, a recently introduced bird that was multiplying far faster than expected. While Coues and most ornithologists were in favor of killing many of them off, Brewer tried to defend them. This ornithological event is known as "The Sparrow War."
Henslow’s Sparrow: Audubon named this bird for John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), who was a British priest, botanist and geologist. He is best remembered as friend and mentor to his pupil, the famous evolutionist Charles Darwin.
Bachman’s Sparrow: John J. Audubon named this one after another friend, the Rev. John Bachman. Bachman (1790-1874) was the pastor of the same church in Charleston, S.C., for 56 years and known as a social reformer who ministered to African-American slaves as well as white Southerners, and who used his knowledge of natural history to become one of the first writers to argue scientifically that blacks and whites are the same species.
LeConte’s Sparrow: Audubon discovered this bird, although its naming is a bit hazy. It is generally believed that he named it after a friend, Dr. John Lawrence LeConte, although some think that he was referring to another John LeConte, also a doctor. The first LeConte (1825-1883) was a 19th century entomologist, responsible for naming and describing about half of the insect taxa known in the United States in his lifetime. The second LeConte (1818-1891) was a scientist and academic who served as president of the University of California.
Blackburnian Warbler: Not many birds are named for a woman, but this one is. She was Anna Blackburne (1726-1798), an English naturalist especially noteworthy for her insect collections. A beetle is also named for her.
Cory’s Shearwater: This bird is named, perhaps appropriately, for Charles B. Cory, who was the first one to describe it as a species after he collected a specimen off Chatham Island, Mass. Cory (1857-1921) grew up in a wealthy family and didn’t have to work for a living so he pursued his ornithological passion. Eventually, when his collection of 19,000 bird specimens made his house a bit cluttered, he donated them to The Field Museum in Chicago. Cory was a golfer on the 1904 U.S. Olympic team.
Ross’s Goose: The goose is named in honor of Bernard R. Ross, a naturalist who was a chief trader with the Hudson’s Bay Co. in Canada's Northwest Territories. Ross (1827-1874) was an Irishman who contributed much to the early scientific knowledge of the region.
Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow: This bird was named for American naturalist Edward William Nelson (1855-1934), who took part in a number of scientific expeditions, including ones to the Yosemite Valley and Death Valley. Several vertebrate species are also named for him.
Baird’s Sandpiper: Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887) was the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution and served as secretary and assistant secretary there. He was dedicated to expanding the natural history collections of the institution, which he increased from 6,000 specimens in 1850 to more than 2 million by the time he died. He published more than 1,000 works during his lifetime.
We suggest the following links for further reading on this matter:
Birds Georgia is building places where birds and people thrive.