CHICAGO, Ill. — The governing Council of the American Ornithological Society (AOS) today announces the appointment of Dr. Judith Scarl as its next executive director and chief executive officer, effective 6 July 2021. Dr. Scarl succeeds Melinda Pruett-Jones as the second woman executive to lead the society. The AOS formed in 2016 after a merger of the American Ornithologists’ Union, founded in 1883, and Cooper Ornithological Society, founded in 1893. Since 2014, as the society’s first executive director, Pruett-Jones has guided the AOS’s transition from an all-volunteer-based society to the world’s largest international, executive-led, professionalized society for ornithologists; the society currently coordinates the work of thousands of members through its 32 volunteer committees and active ad hoc committees, with strategic and operational support from a professional staff of seven.
Dr. Scarl comes to the AOS from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), where she served as U.S. coordinator of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) and as bird conservation program manager for AFWA. For NABCI, she coordinated efforts of a 30-member partnership of federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations to identify and address common bird conservation priorities and challenges and to develop a unified voice for bird conservation efforts. For AFWA, Dr. Scarl worked with state agencies on bird-focused issues ranging from incidental take, to feral and free-ranging cats, to grassland bird conservation. Among the many important reports developed and produced through her work with NABCI were the State of the Birds report and the Field Guide to Developing Partnerships, which have served as effective guides for determining priority and focus areas in bird conservation. Previous to her work with AFWA and NABCI, Dr. Scarl managed several community science bird-monitoring programs, including a four-state montane songbird project in New England and a Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz in the U.S. and Canada.
Dr. Scarl is strongly committed to helping the AOS achieve its potential, through open engagement internally and strategic engagement externally. She views this new role as an opportunity to more closely align ornithological research with conservation efforts, helping AOS explore and foster all elements of science that link to bird conservation, including human dimensions — “a critical element,” she asserts, “of doing strong bird conservation, and an important piece of the ornithological research puzzle.”
AOS President Mike Webster commented, “Judith brings with her a strong commitment to both ornithology and avian conservation, as well as passion for broadening participation in our science. She is well poised to guide AOS as we foster the next generation of ornithologists who will lead our discipline in the 21st century.”
The society’s strategic goals include building a broader, more diverse ornithological community, in part by providing support for a diverse cadre of early-career ornithologists exploring a more expansive range of careers. Dr. Scarl has a strong passion for and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in science and conservation, indispensable assets to help diversify the society. Her extensive connections with a broad network of conservation partners, her deep understanding of the need to support students and early-career professionals, and her passion for expanding inclusivity and equity in the field of ornithology will drive key areas of program development for the society.
“I strongly believe that we all play a role in building a more inclusive, equitable, and just Society, which will benefit not just ornithology, but our broader communities,” Dr. Scarl said. “The AOS is poised to serve an important niche in the broader conservation field in attracting and guiding a more diverse community of early-career professionals into an array of impactful jobs throughout conservation.”
Pruett-Jones will continue to focus on the society’s business and strategic priorities, working with the Council and staff until 6 July, and will then serve as a consultant through the end of 2021 to ensure a smooth leadership transition for the society. “AOS is fortunate to welcome Judith as an integral partner in guiding the priorities of the AOS strategic initiatives that will enable the society to grow in relevancy and impact in ornithology, and to connect our science with conserving birds and their habitats,” Pruett-Jones said.
Dr. Scarl earned an A.B. from Harvard University with a joint concentration in biology and psychology, and a Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell University. Her dissertation research focused on vocal communication in wild parrots, including Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) in Australia and Orange-fronted Conures (Eupsittula canicularis) in Costa Rica.
AOS President-elect Colleen Handel commented, “Dr. Scarl’s education and scholarly research in the field of ornithology, coupled with her executive experience within the realm of international bird conservation, make her uniquely equipped to represent the diverse career paths, interests, and professions encompassed by our membership.”
Dr. Scarl will lead AOS’s largely virtual operation and staff remotely from her home office in Silver Spring, Md., supporting the society’s continuing efforts to build an inclusive culture and develop effective relationships across its multi-dimensional organization of engaged volunteer leaders, members, and professional staff.
About the American Ornithological Society
The American Ornithological Society (AOS) is an international society devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of birds, enriching ornithology as a profession, and promoting a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds. The AOS publishes two international journals, Ornithology and Ornithological Applications, which have a history of the highest scientific impact rankings among ornithological journals worldwide. The Society’s checklists serve as the accepted authority for scientific nomenclature and English common names of birds in the Americas. The AOS is also a partner with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the online Birds of the World, a rich database of species accounts of the world’s birds. AOS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving about 3,000 members globally. For more information, see www.americanornithology.org.
Christine Schmidt, AOS Communications Manager