Detroit Audubon is becoming Detroit Bird Alliance!
Why Detroit Bird Alliance? The name says it all!
Detroit: Our members reside in the City of Detroit and across southeastern Michigan.
Bird: We are dedicated to birds – to protecting them, preserving their habitat and inspiring an appreciation for all birds.
Alliance: We are part of a larger network of bird-dedicated organizations. Our conservation efforts rely on collaboration between individuals, communities and organizations. We are stronger together.
When will the new name go into effect? Our transition to Detroit Bird Alliance will take place in 2024.
For now, we will operate as Detroit Audubon. All donations and membership renewals may continue through Detroit Audubon and will transition seamlessly next year.
Our affiliation as the Detroit chapter of the National Audubon Society will not change.
In the new year, you’ll notice some changes as we adopt our new name and a new look.
Detroit Audubon (soon-to-be Detroit Bird Alliance): New name, same mission – to foster the appreciation and conservation of birds and the environment we share.
Read more about today’s joint announcement and background on the name change here.
Frequently Asked Questions About Detroit Audubon’s Name Change
After many months of thoughtful discussion and reflection, Detroit Audubon’s Board of Directors voted on May 8, 2023 to change our name. While we begin the process to select a new name, our mission to protect birds and the environment we share remains the same.
Here are some answers to questions you may have.
Who was John James Audubon?
John James Audubon was a 19th-century artist and naturalist who achieved fame for his series of paintings of North American bird species between 1827 and 1838. Audubon’s name became associated with bird conservation after his death, due to the popularity of his paintings. Audubon was not a conservationist himself.
Audubon owned, purchased, and sold people. He also wrote about returning escaped enslaved people to their owners and of his strong opposition to the growing abolitionist movement. Audubon also supplied scientist Dr. Samuel George Morton with Indigenous skulls Audubon exhumed from Indigenous gravesites with the intent to advance the theory of racial inequality. (Read more about John James Audubon here.)
Who founded Audubon Societies?
The Audubon societies were created nearly 50 years after John James Audubon’s death in 1851. In 1896, Harriet Hemenway and Minna B. Hall founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society, dedicated to stopping the killing of birds for their plumage. Bird plumage for women’s hats was in high demand at the time.
Why is this a problem now?
While Audubon’s name has been synonymous with birds and bird conservation for more than a century, the positive association has changed.
In the last five years National Audubon, through research, publications, and conferences has taken the time to educate others on John James Audubon’s active involvement in the anti-abolitionist movement, his unacknowledged use of slaves to aid him in his artwork, and his support of the eugenics movement. The once positive association with his name expanding bird diversity and awareness is overshadowed by his lack of humanity. We hoped National Audubon was laying the groundwork to change its name to one that would better illustrate the mission and without an honorific or eponymous title. Unfortunately, National Audubon has chosen to keep Audubon in its name. You can read more here about National Audubon’s advocacy for dropping honorifics from bird naming conventions.
Our staff, board, and many of our members believe that continued association with the Audubon name is in direct conflict to our core values and only impedes our efforts to include everyone in the work to save birds.
Wasn’t Audubon just a “man of his time”?
Audubon lived during the abolitionist movement which was growing in strength, especially in the north. By 1820 all of the Northern states had passed legislation to abolish slavery, including NewYork, where Audubon lived. In spite of the growing awareness of the inhumanity of owning people, Audubon remained a defender of slavery and staunchly anti-abolitionist.
Audubon sold enslaved people to finance his collecting and publishing work. In his Ornithological Biography, Audubon tells the story of his encounter with a group of escaped slaves on a collecting trip. Audubon returned the escaped slaves to their owners. Audubon desecrated graves and collected skulls from Indigenous people. (Read more here.)
What does his past have to do with what is happening today?
Detroit Audubon recognizes that actions from the past have an impact on people today. Dropping Audubon from our name acknowledges that his legacy is a barrier to our commitment to inclusion. A name change offers us the opportunity to better reflect the community we serve, the people we engage and the work we do together.
How does changing the name help your work?
We have lost 3 billion birds in North America alone since 1970. It is estimated that by 2080, nearly two-thirds of North American bird species will have lost more than half of their range due to habitat loss and climate change.
The name Audubon poses a barrier to include everyone in the work to save birds. By removing that barrier we hope more people will support our mission to help save birds.
What will the new name be?
Our naming committee will outline the process and seek input from members and other affiliated Audubon groups nationwide in the selection of a new name. Details will be forthcoming. The goal is to have a new name selected by Sept. 1, 2023.
Where can I learn more?
John James Audubon and the Audubon Name
Audubon Magazine, “The Myth of John James Audubon” by Gregory Nobles (Summer 2020)
Audubon Magazine, “What do we do about John James Audubon” by J. Drew Lanham (Spring 2021)
Audubon Magazine, “What’s in a Bird Name?” by Arianna Remmel (Summer 2022)
Commonplace, “We Left All On the Ground But the Head: J.J. Audubon’s Human Skulls” by Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead (Nov 2021)