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Seattle Audubon hatches new name: Birds Connect Seattle

caption: A junco spotted in Oregon. This bird is common in the Pacific Northwest.
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A junco spotted in Oregon. This bird is common in the Pacific Northwest.

In an effort to step away from a name with a racist legacy, the Seattle Audubon is changing its name to Birds Connect Seattle.

The Seattle chapter says the name change is just one step toward creating a more inclusive and anti-racist organization. According to a statement from the organization, the concept of "connection" was consistently brought up throughout the renaming process. The statement also points out that birds connect across families, hemispheres, and habitats.

Birds Connect Seattle spent eight months coming up with its new name. The organization announced in July 2022 that it would be changing its name due to its connection to John James Audubon, for which many Audubon Societies are named after. Audubon owned, sold, and bought enslaved African Americans through his general store in Kentucky and was very anti-abolition.

"We wanted a name that spoke to that idea, something simple and approachable, that immediately identifies the core of our mission and required no further explanation," Executive Director Claire Catania said Tuesday. "Rather than a barrier, this new name represents an open door for communities to join us in our mission to advocate and organize for cities where people and birds thrive."

After engaging with focus groups, launching a public survey, and receiving hundreds of emails and phones calls, the organization had input from more than 1,000 people. A committee was convened in January to consider a list of 263 name suggestions. The committee opted to nix any eponymous titles. It also avoided any suggestions with "society" in them, feeling that it wasn't inclusive. It also didn't want to use academic terms like “avian” and “ornithology.” That eventually led to lists of 50, 11, and then three potential names. Staff ultimately picked the final choice. Read more about the process here.

Glenn Nelson is the group's community director. His work involves equity efforts, and he writes about race and the outdoors.

“We are tearing apart about every aspect of our programming, staffing, and messaging,” Nelson said.

In a separate move earlier this year, the Seattle chapter gave land back to the Snoqualmie Tribe.

Joseph Drew Lanham is an ornithologist and a board member of the National Audubon, whose leaders recently voted to keep the Audubon name. Lanham said he celebrates the new name for the Seattle group.

Lanham said he recognizes Audubon for his paintings and documentary work, but he ultimately denounced the naturalist and painter for his anti-Black, anti-Native American legacy.

He encouraged the Seattle Chapter to take a strong stand.

“Make the bold statement and tell the world not just who you are, but what you intend going forward, Birds Connect Seattle,” he said.

Lanham offered a word of caution about organizations altering their name in situations like this, but failing to push that conversation forward — or making structural changes.

Environmental justice, civil rights, a love for birds, and conserving nature all play a stronger role when combined together, Lanham said.

“Conservation demands this hard work," he said. "Conservation demands this activism.”

Birds Connect Seattle is not the first organization to pivot away from the name "Audubon." NPR reports that the former Audubon Naturalist Society near Washington, D.C. already changed its name to Nature Forward. Chicago Audubon is in the process of changing its name. Portland is also coming up with a new name. The National Audubon Society has opted to keep its original name.

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