The mission of the American Ornithologists’ Union is “to advance the scientific understanding of birds, to enrich ornithology as a profession, and to promote a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds.” AOU addresses its conservation science mandate both with internal activities and through external partners.
- The AOU Conservation Committee prepares scientific white papers on specific issues suggested by committee members or others. Experts on accepted topics are invited to review the scientific issues and related literature, and their findings are published by the AOU.
- AOU annual meetings have a high proportion of conservation-relevant research presentations, and often feature special symposia on specific conservation issues or species of concern.
- Each year the AOU confers a Conservation Award to recognize extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and/or their habitats.
- AOU is an institutional member of the Bird Conservation Alliance (organized by, but independent from, the American Bird Conservancy), and has a seat on the BCA Council. AOU members interested in keeping up to date with avian conservation issues can sign up for the free ABC electronic newsletter, 'Bird Calls.'
- Through its membership in the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the AOU supports a respected science-based organization that provides background material on environmental issues.
- AOU activities related to public policy contribute to conservation science by working to increase access by ornithologists to the permits, technical tools and financial resources they need to study birds effectively.
- Finally, the AOU contributes to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative through its individual members, many of whom have played key roles in developing the continental and national-scale conservation plans for all major groups of birds, as well as providing technical advice on bird population monitoring, and developing priorities for increasing knowledge of species of conservation concern. The AOU Conservation Committee took part in evaluations of Partners in Flight’s priority-setting system priority-setting system (PDF, 13 pp, 101 kB) and estimates of continental population sizes.
The AOU Public Responsibility Committee works with a variety of partners to address public policy issues relevant to avian science. The following priorities were approved by the AOU Council in 2006:
- Increase competitive research funding available to ornithologists through national science foundations.
- Increase competitive grants available to ornithologists from national agencies.
- Increase ease of use of refuges, parks and other national lands for ornithological research.
- Institute consistent nationwide permit policies for conducting ornithological research on national wildlife refuges.
- Institute consistent nationwide standards and procedures for scientific collecting permits for birds.
- Resolve ownership issues for bird specimens collected in US National Parks.
- Develop regulations easing import/export of ornithological specimens for scientific purposes.
- Facilitate the preservation of homeless bird specimen collections
- Increase funding for bird collections.
- Determine specific needs and make recommendations for increasing support of ornithological research, conservation and education by the US Bird Banding Laboratory.
- Assure US Bird Banding Laboratory and the Canadian Banding Office accept and support work of North American Banding Council in bander training and certification.
- Assess extent of problems, if any, ornithologists have in gaining acceptance of bird research protocols through Institutional Animal Care Committees and, if needed, develop recommendations for improvement.
- Update and maintain “The Use of Wild Birds in Research” publication.
These priorities are addressed through partnerships with organizations that have the resources and expertise needed to affect public policy, as indicated below.
The Ornithological Council (OC), is a partnership of ornithological societies developed to focus on public affairs affecting ornithology and to provide ornithological information to decision makers. The work of the OC is headed by a paid executive director, under the direction of a governing board on which AOU has two representatives. OC has been most active in engaging federal agencies on policies that affect the collection, capture or shipping of birds and specimens (e.g., permits for banding, Federal collecting, state collecting, endangered species, CITES), government management of ornithological data (e.g., bird banding), research with animals (animal rights and guidelines to the use of wild birds in research), and funding for competitive research grants available to ornithologists (NSF, NIH, state wildlife funding, federal agencies).
AOU appoints two representatives to the North American Banding Council (NABC). NABC was organized by the banding community to provide common guidance and training for banders. It provides input to the US Bird Banding Lab and Canadian Bird Banding Office on issues affecting banders, and functions as a collaborative rather than a lobbying group.
There is an active AOU Committee on Bird Collections. It has representatives in the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSCA), concerned with policies affecting collecting and collections, and takes part in an NSF Research Coordination Network on natural science collections.
AOU sits on the Public Affairs Council of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), which represents all of biology in Washington on public affairs issues. AIBS provides public-policy services for its members focusing on research funding, research policy and education policy. It tracks and analyzes issues, reviews policy and regulatory proposals, and develops and articulates public policy positions in the interest of its members. AOU participation allows us to influence the issues AIBS takes on.
AOU is primarily a North American organization, but its ornithological scope is world wide, with a particular emphasis on the Western Hemisphere. Our international activities reflect these priorities.
- AOU offers a Competitive Grants Program to support infrastructure development and capacity building
- Abstracts in AOU scientific publications are published in Spanish, as well as English.
- The AOU is a lead partner in the multi-national production of the online avian bibliographic resource "Ornithological Worldwide Literature" (OWL).
- The International Ornithological Committee, responsible for overseeing organization of International Ornithological Congresses every 4 years, has strong North American representation. AOU helped with formation of an International Federation of Ornithological Societies, which will provide a permanent home for International Ornithological Committee activities.
- AOU’s International Affairs Committee sometimes applies for and distributes grant monies to support travel by students to attend international ornithological meetings