American Ornithologists' Union

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American Ornithologists' Union (AOU)
drawing of a large flightless bird The Great Auk
Symbol of AOU, the extinct great auk
Abbreviation AOU
Predecessor Nuttall Ornithological Club
Formation September 26, 1883; 132 years ago (1883-09-26)
Type NGO
John R. Faaborg
University of Missouri
Susan M. Haig
US Geological Survey
Sara R. Morris
Canisius College
James Herkert
Illinois Dept of Natural Resources
Main organ

The American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) is an ornithological organization based in the United States. Its members are primarily professional ornithologists although membership is open to anyone with an interest in birds. The AOU is a member of the Ornithological Council[1] and Ornithological Societies of North America (OSNA).[2] The Union publishes the scholarly journal The Auk as well as the AOU Checklist of North American Birds


The AOU was founded in 1883. Three members of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, Elliott Coues, J. A. Allen, and William Brewster, sent letters to 48 prominent ornithologists inviting them "to attend a Convention of American Ornithologists, to be held in New York City, beginning on September 26, 1883, for the purpose of founding an American Ornithologists' Union, upon a basis similar to that of the "British Ornithologists' Union." The addressees were selected mainly because of their "scientific standing, but somewhat with regard to geographical representation, it being desirable to make the gathering as catholic and non-sectional as possible." Twenty-five responded to the letter and 21 were actually present when the first meeting was called to order.[3]

Participants of the 13th Congress of the AOU
Original letter to AOU founders

The founding convention was held in the library of the American Museum of Natural History on September 26, 1883. Founding members of the AOU include those present at the inaugural convention, listed below. In addition, the members of the newly created AOU unanimously enrolled two others as founding members: Professor S. Baird, who was unable to attend due to his duties at the Smithsonian, and J. A. Allen, who could not attend due to physical disability.[3]

Presidents of the AOU[edit]

Recent history[edit]

In 2013, the AOU announced a close partnership with the Cooper Ornithological Society, including joint meetings, a centralized publishing office, and a refocusing of their respective journals to increase efficiency of research.[4]


Regular membership in the AOU is open to any dues paying person with an interest in birds. Student memberships for full-time students are offered at a reduced rate. Student Membership Awards of a no-cost membership are available to qualified undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in pursuing a career in ornithology.[5] There are three higher classes of membership, Elective Member, Honorary Fellow and Fellow.[6]

Elective Members are selected "for significant contributions to ornithology and/or service to the Union." When elected, they must reside in the Western Hemisphere. A proposed Elective Member must be nominated by three Fellows or Elective Members and more than half of the Fellows and Elective Members must vote for the proposed member for him or her to be declared elected.[6]

Honorary Fellows are limited to 100 and are "chosen for exceptional ornithological eminence and must at the time of their election be residents of a country other than the United States of America or Canada." Nominations for Honorary Fellow are by a special committee appointed by the president or any three Fellows. A vote of the majority of the Fellows present at an annual meeting is required for election. Each Fellow may vote affirmatively for as many as there are vacancies.[6]

Fellows are chosen "for exceptional and sustained contributions to ornithology and/or service to the Union" and must be residents or citizens of the Western Hemisphere when elected. Candidates must be an Honorary Fellow or Elective Member in good standing. A vote of two thirds of the Fellows at an annual meeting is required for election as a Fellow.[6]


Its quarterly journal, The Auk, has been published since January, 1884. Other significant publications include the AOU Checklist of North American Birds, which is the standard reference work for the field, and a monograph series, Ornithological Monographs.


The AOU presents annual awards to recognize achievements and service, support research, and encourage student participation.

Scientific Awards[edit]

Candidates for the following awards are nominated by the Scientific Awards Committee.

  • The William Brewster Memorial Award "is given annually to the author or co-authors (not previously so honored) of an exceptional body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere" and consists of a medal and honorarium. The first Brewster Medal was awarded in 1921.[7]
  • The Elliott Coues Award, named in honor of Elliott Coues, a founding member of the AOU, is presented annually to recognize outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research. It consists of a medal and an honorarium provided though the endowed Ralph W. Schreiber Fund of the AOU. It was first presented in 1972[8]
  • The Ned K.Johnson Young Investigator Award was first presented in 2005 in honor of Ned K. Johnson, a former president of the AOU. It "recognizes work by an ornithologist early in his/her career who shows distinct promise for future leadership in the profession." It consists of a framed certificate and an honorarium.[9]
  • The Ralph W. Schreiber Conservation Award is to honor extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and/or their habitats by an individual or team. The award has been presented since 2005 and consists of a certificate and honorarium.[10]

Student Awards[edit]

A decline in student membership in the AOU and other ornithological societies prompted creation of a Student Affairs Committee in 2003. Several awards for students were created starting in 2005 as well as activities for students at annual meetings.

  • The Student Membership Award provides one-year of full regular membership in the AOU for qualified undergraduate or graduate students interested in pursuing a career in ornithology. Students must apply each year during the fall semester from September through December with a resume or curriculum vitae describing their degree program, the expected completion date, their academic or work experience, and interests in ornithology. A note of support from the student's academic advisor is also required. Membership in the AOU is required to compete for travel, research and presentation awards.[11]
  • The Marcia Brady Tucker Travel Award is a competitive award that covers the cost of transportation to an annual meeting of the AOU for student members. Application procedures are distributed to eligible members each year.[12]
  • A student can compete for a Student Presentation Award if he or she is presenting a poster or oral paper at an annual meeting. The Robert B. Berry Student Award is "for the most outstanding presentation on research pertaining to avian conservation." Three more awards are unranked. Applications are distributed to eligible AOU members.[13]


Much of the work of the AOU is accomplished by its twenty-nine standing committees. Many are those that are common for any organization such as Bylaws, Historical and Membership. Other committees are of special importance to ornithology.[14]

  • The Committee on Bird Collections is charged with monitoring the status of avian material collections, maintaining liaison with organizations holding collections and conducting and publishing inventories of collections. Its work on permits for the possession and transport of specimens is especially important to museums and researchers.[15]
  • The Committee on Classification and Nomenclature - South America, better known as the South American Classification Committee (SACC) deals with creating a standard classification, with English names, for the bird species of South America.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Ornithological Council". National Museum of National History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "Ornithological Societies of North America". Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "The American Ornithologists' Union", Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club VIII (4), October 1883: 221–226 
  4. ^ Hagner, Chuck (2013-08-15). "American Ornithologists’ Union plots new course in Chicago". BirdWatching. 
  5. ^ "Student Membership Awards". 8 January 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Bylaws of the American Ornithologists' Union" (PDF). October 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "William Brewster Memorial Award". Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "Elliott Coues Award". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  9. ^ "Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  10. ^ "Ralph W. Schreiber Conservation Award". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "Student Membership Awards". 8 January 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  12. ^ "Student Travel Awards". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "Student Presentation Awards". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  14. ^ "Committees of the American Ornithologists' Union". Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "AOU Committee on Bird Collections". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  16. ^ "A classification of the bird species of South America". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 

External links[edit]