Georgia conservation group drops 'Audubon,' changing name to Birds Georgia

A portrait by John Syme of American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon. (The White House Historical Association via Wikimedia Commons)

The conservation group, Georgia Audubon, is changing its name to Birds Georgia, following a reckoning over the legacy of the man the group was named for.

John James Audubon was a 19th century wildlife artist most known for his seminal work, “The Birds of America,” a collection of more than 400 colorful paintings. “His contributions to ornithology, art, and culture are enormous,” according to the National Audubon Society.

But there is a big “but” in the second half of that sentence: “but he was a complex and troubling character who did despicable things even by the standards of his day,” the group continues.

Audubon held racist views, bought and sold enslaved people, opposed emancipation and stole human remains, according to the National Audubon Society.

Over the past few years, some Audubon chapters around the country — and the National Audubon Society itself — started considering changing their names.

The national group ended up deciding to keep theirs. But local organizations, including in Washington D.C., Seattle and Detroit, decided to switch.

Now, the non-profit that advocates for protecting birds and their habitats in Georgia is doing the same.

“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,” Birds Georgia executive director Jared Teutsch said in a statement. “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’s board had convened a task force to look at the name change, according to the organization. That group spent months on research and discussion, and they sent a survey to thousands of people.

“From the process, we learned that there are fellow bird conservationists and prospective bird lovers who feel unwelcome when we use the Audubon name,” Marc Goncher, vice-chair of the board and chair of the name task force, said in a statement.

The group points out this isn’t the first time in its almost hundred-year history that it’s changed its name. Before adopting the name Georgia Audubon in 2020, it was the Atlanta Audubon Society, and before that it was the Atlanta Bird Club. 

Meanwhile, the American Ornithological Society plans to start a project next year to give birds themselves new common names, changing ones that are named after people, or that have names that are deemed offensive.