American Ornithologists' Union

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 (1883-09-26)
Type NGO
Scott M. Lanyon
University of Minnesota
Steven R. Beissinger
University of California Berkeley
Andrew W. Jones
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Rebecca T. Kimball
University of Florida
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

Recent history

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

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

Student Awards

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.


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]

See also


  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. 1 2 "The American Ornithologists' Union", Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, VIII (4): 221–226, October 1883
  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. 1 2 3 4 "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

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