New Day at ABA

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Readers of this blog will know that I’ve been very preoccupied for the last three months by the current situation at the American Birding Association. (In fact, I’ve been so preoccupied that the blog hasn’t been updated since the end of August.)

In early July, I was asked to be on the search committee for a new president / executive director for the ABA. This fine organization had just gone through some tough times, owing to a few bad decisions and a lot of bad luck. The previous president had been fired, the staff was upset about a variety of issues, membership had been declining, and the financial situation was going from bad to worse. Things were looking shaky for the ABA. But because this organization had done so much for me in the past, I agreed to try to help.

It has been a time-consuming and complicated process, as you might guess if you read the previous entries on this subject. But ultimately we had over a dozen serious applicants for the position, and four finalists who were all eminently qualified. At that point things got really difficult, because all four of the finalists were friends of mine, people I had known and respected for a long time. But after extensive interviews and discussions, the search committee came up with recommendations, and the ABA board of directors voted at the end of last week. As of today, they’re ready to announce the decision, and it’s just going up on the ABA website.

Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Jeffrey A. Gordon, currently of Lewes, Delaware, soon to be in Colorado Springs at the ABA offices. I first met Jeff in the early 1990s, when he was a young naturalist and tour leader new on the scene, and we worked together teaching some intensive bird I.D. workshops set up through Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. A couple of years later, Jeff and I took a group of teenaged birders to Mexico, on the VENT / ABA sponsored Camp Cielo. Whether we were scoping sandpipers on the Texas coast or pursuing parrots in Mexican mountain forests, Jeff displayed a remarkable set of skills as a birder, organizer, teacher, and leader, and he had such a warm and engaging personality that everyone was drawn to him. I figured at the time that he was destined for great things.

In the years since, Jeff Gordon has become a popular speaker on the bird festival circuit, has written a very popular blog, has written many articles for Bird Watcher’s Digest and other publications, has been a major consultant to the Peterson Field Guide Series, has done innovative things with ecotourism and with new media such as podcasts and video, and has generally established himself as one of the leaders of the birding community in North America. And now he’s going to be the President of the American Birding Association. For more information you can go to the ABA’s website.

Congratulations, Jeff, and thanks to all of the fine people who helped with this process! There are still challenges to be met, but I'm confident that the birders will rally and that Jeff Gordon will lead ABA into a bright future.


  1. New days dawn for the ABA, and I am very optimistic about Jeffrey Gordon being the best one to navigate into them. Thx ABA for this choice.

  2. Congratulations to Jeff--and above all congratulations to the ABA for what will turn out to be one of its best moves ever! The future is suddenly looking very bright.

  3. While I don't have the extensive experience with Jeff that others have, I have worked with Jeff at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival for the past several years. I can echo everything Kenn says about Jeff's abilities in the field as a birder. It's his ability to quietly connect with people that impressed me the most. He'll be an asset to the organization.

    David Hartgrove
    Daytona Beach, FL

  4. This is great news. The ABA's future looks very bright, indeed.

    Thank god for committed Jeff and all the candidates who even through all the static believed in what ABA could be and were willing to help see it there.

    Thanks also to you, Kenn. Your role on the committee--along with Erika, Lou, and Chuck--certainly helped to reestablish trust that was sorely lacking just a few months ago.

    Here's one for the People, now onto the Birds...

  5. Congratulations to Jeff and ABA, that's great news! Thanks so much Kenn for all your efforts on this.

  6. Congratulations to Jeff! He sounds like an excellent choice to lead the ABA out of the thorns and into the future.

  7. Congratulations Jeff. The ABA made a solid choice and you will succeed. You have my full vote of confidence.

    John Sterling

  8. Thanks for your work on the search committee, Kenn. I'm busting with pride over here in SE Ohio. I would like to add to your comprehensive list of Jeff's virtues that he's also hilariously funny. A sense of humor is going to be vital, I think, and it's one of the things that makes Jeff so dear.

  9. I had the pleasure of birding with Jeff Gordon at the ABA convention in 2001 when he was the leader for one of my field trips, and Jeff was exemplary as a leader, making sure that everyone was briefed and that we all worked together so that everyone had the best opportunities to see and enjoy the birds. Jeff was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and had great people skills.

    I'm delighted that he will be leading the ABA.

  10. Jeff was the guide on the first Neotropical birding trip I ever took (a VENT trip to Belize many years ago). His birding skills were phenomenal, but what made an equally powerful impression were his good humor, his patience and generosity with birders of all levels, and the apparently genuine pleasure he seemed to take in our company. If the ABA can be fixed at all, Jeff is probably one of the very few people who can fix it.

  11. I'm so humbled by all the nice things that are being said about me and the good wishes that are being offered. Thank you all.

    I'd like to especially thank John Sterling for his words of support here and elsewhere in the social web of birders. He's a really talented and thoughtful guy, something that's obvious from his web presence, but even more so from the time we got to spend birding and odeing together in Philadelphia recently.

    I realize that the job is a big one, but I feel that with the support that's so manifestly out there in the community, the talent and dedication that the ABA staff brings, and the stewardship and governance of the board, we can't lose. We all want the same good things to happen. Here's to seeing ABA really take wing!

  12. Jeff Gordon is a very good speaker and thoughtful writer. Jeff is an expert birder and a fine field leader. Jeff is a rare good listener, too. Jeff is attuned to modern communications systems - social media, from face-book and twitter to a flock of blogs. Jeff has a history connecting with ABA which goes back decades. (For example, I remember his help as an essential field trip leader with the very first ABA Conferences - not the older Conventions - going back to McAllen in early 1992. His assistance was crucial.) Jeff has enviable connections - and I would add, very good relations - throughout the birding community: bird-magazine staff, optics people, festival organizers, birding tour leaders, and book publishers, for example. Simply put: Jeff is a prince.

    Jeff is also destined to deal with some incredible ABA problems that have accumulated under the sad leadership of the current ABA Board of Directors. As a group - not every last one, however - the Board has allowed ABA to drop in leadership, membership numbers, financial security, innovation, and basic respect. Given their collective record of abject failures and miserable judgment, their current choice of a highly qualified President is gratifying, but their inability to face the larger reality and their own responsibility for the years-long crisis at ABA is not terribly reassuring.

    Jeff Gordon will need help. Actually he will need a heap of help. From lots of birders. And some Board Members will simply have to get out of the way.... probably permanently.

  13. Count me in for fully supporting Jeff and the ABA. There are 2.4 million birders out there who are active enough to keep a life list. I look forward to working with everyone to bring more of them in to the ABA fold, increasing everyone's enjoyment of birding, and doing what we need to in order to sustain vigorous populations of all our native wild birds.

  14. I fear the ABA is beyond saving and perhaps a clean slate is called for - that's why I let my membership expire a little over a year ago. I had been a member (with a few gaps) since the late 1980s.

    But assuming the "ABA brand" is salvageable:

    The first thing Jeff can do to "save the ABA" is make the annual membership worth the money. Because currently, it is not.

    In the process of doing so, Jeff and the ABA board need to figure out who the ABA is and what it aims to accomplish.

    I think Drew Wheelan's work during the ongoing the Gulf Oil catastrophe was a great thing. I have long felt the ABA needed to do a LOT more for bird conservation. Otherwise our hobby won't exist the way we know it in <50 years. Drew's work was the first glimmer of true effectiveness I have seen from the ABA (instead of feel-good window dressing). Thanks to Drew, during the Gulf Oil crisis the ABA ran rings around Audubon, Sierra Club, and other stodgy old conservation outfits.

    The ABA also desperately needs to connect with / interact with its members better.

    Anyway, I wish Jeff the best in helping the ABA rise like a phoenix from its current state.

  15. I met Jeff at San Isidro Lodge, Ecuador, last march, a night none of us will ever forget... or indeed remember?! :D

    What a fabulous choice - Jeff is the ideal person to take ABA forward. I'm absolutely delighted. He no doubt has a huge job on his hands but if anyone can do it, surely Jeff is the man.

    Good luck!


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