History of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society

Founding Principles

From its inception, our Chapter had a clear Mission:

  • Promote the understanding and appreciation of birds and other wildlife
  • Promote the conservation and restoration of their natural habitats

As this history shows, our Chapter has striven to live up to the Audubon legacy of conservation all the while having fun and enjoying our “feathered friends”.

First NAAS Newsletter
Click here for more early Newsletters

Early Years

  • Founding

Birders in the Verde Valley initially started the Northern Arizona Audubon Society and we officially became a Chapter of the National Audubon Society in 1972. In 1978 we became a non-profit and have the IRS 501c3 status.

Our “Founder” was Will Osborn who was supported by a number of other like-minded birders.

  • All of Northern Arizona was our territory
Two true NAAS Pioneers: and Virginia Gilmore and Wilma Morrison .

In the beginning of our history, the geographic boundaries extended from the White Mountains all the way to Prescott. Of course, in subsequent years both Prescott and the White Mountains (originally a satellite of NAAS) grew and formed their own chapters.

  • In those early days, the best method of communication with members was by way of a printed newsletter. We started publishing the Black Hawk Watch, which has become an institution within our chapter and is published five times per year.
  • Flagstaff and a “bi-level chapter”

Over thirty-five years ago, interest in our activities in Flagstaff grew to the point where we started to hold a variety of programs in Flagstaff. The thriving birding scene in Flagstaff has led us to the unique position where we have become a “bi-level” chapter with monthly programs, field trips and many other activities being held both “above and below the rim”.


 Dedication to the preservation of habitat

Even in our early years, our chapter was active in many efforts to insure that a legacy of a thriving bird population was preserved and passed on to succeeding generations. Here are some examples of what our early leaders were able to accomplish.

  • Anita MacFarlane, Godmother of the Sedona Wetlands
    Anita MacFarlane, Godmother of the Sedona Wetlands. Click on photo for larger view.

    In the early 1980’s, our Chapter worked with other community and environmental organizations at both a local and national level to help obtain congressional passage of the Arizona Wilderness Act. We lobbied at the local level and even sent a group of our members to Washington to talk to our representatives.This effort paid off in 1984 when our congressional delegation unanimously supported passage of this bill. This meant that hundreds of thousands of acres of federal lands were incorporated into the National Wilderness Preservation System. Every time you visit Sycamore Canyon, West Clear Creek, Fossil Creek, Kachina Peaks and dozens more sites around the state be appreciative of the efforts of our early members.

  • Before the City of Sedona was founded, commercial interests were trying to dramatically increase development in Oak Creek. The “crown jewel” of these efforts was a proposal to construct a major resort in what is now Slide Rock State Park. Our Chapter actively challenged this and crossed the state in support of efforts to block a rezoning proposal in Oak Creek. At one point some forty-five members drove to Flagstaff to a Coconino County Supervisors meeting to publicly oppose this. Because of our efforts and those of like-minded organizations, Oak Creek is now protected.
  • While it is hard to believe, at one time the Verde River was mined for sand and gravel. Companies used heavy equipment to remove this material and severely damaged the riparian habitat in the process. Again, we opposed these actions and, ultimately, these activities were stopped.
  • The Sedona Wetlands Preserve is a wonderful facility owned by the City of Sedona. In the late 1990’s, Anita Macfarlane and other members started to champion development of a constructed wetlands at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Perseverance pays off and in 2013, the preserve was opened. Since then well over 200 bird species have been seen there, making it one of he premier birding hot spots in northern Arizona.


 NAAS develops over the years

Of course, we weren’t always about conservation and as our membership grew we branched out into new activities.

Starting in 1999, the Chapter produced printed bird guides to the Flagstaff and Verde Valley areas. Lavishly illustrated, these guides continue to provide both locals and visitors alike with useful tips for finding birds in Northern Arizona.

  • Verde Valley Bird and Nature Festival

Initially conceived in 2001 as a celebration of birds in Dead Horse state Park, the festival has now grown into the premier watchable wildlife event in Northern Arizona. NAAS was one of the founding organizations for the festival and our members form the core of its volunteers.

  • Important Bird Areas

Audubon designates important Bird Areas (IBA) in recognition of an areas global or national importance to bird conservation. Northern Arizona is fortunate in having four IBA’s: Lower Oak Creek, Anderson Mesa, Tuzigoot and Upper Verde River Wildlife Area. NAAS has been actively involved in supporting the creation and promotion of local IBA’s

For over thirty years, our Chapter has organized annual Christmas Bird Counts as part of the larger Audubon bird count tradition. With five sectors located around Flagstaff and the Verde Valley, our “citizen science” has developed a large database of use to researchers.

  • Monthly Programs

Believing that learning about birds and wildlife should be fun, our monthly programs have always featured a wide range of interesting speakers. Recently, topics have ranged from birding in Bhutan and Antarctica, the joys of birding in Yavapai County, the intelligence of Ravens and the secret lives of bats.

  • Field Trips

Of course, enjoying and appreciating birds is best done outdoors. Right from our inception, we have held field trips that are always free and open to the public. Currently, we hold around forty field trips each year. We visit our local “birding “hot spots” as well as venture further afield. Northern Arizona is rich in exciting locations and our knowledgeable volunteer trip leaders know where to go to find our feathered friends.

 Recent Years

  • Youth Outreach

Reaching out to our youth is an important part of what we do. Reaching out to the next generation is both essential and fun. Whether it is hosting bird walks for local students, making educational presentations to youth groups or just recognizing their enthusiasm when they join us in our regular activities, encouraging budding birders is something that we treasure.

  • Yardie Program

We recently started our “Yardie” program to stimulate interest in back yard birding. We now encourage everyone to maintain a list of birds seen in their yards. Once a home has recorded twenty-five species, we recognize then with a certificate. This program has grown to the point where we now have folks with yard lists exceeding one hundred species.

  • Bird Sanctuaries
Common Blackhawk – our mascot

The conservation and restoration of natural habitat is one of our core values and the NAAS Bird Sanctuary program is our crown jewel. In 2013, we realized that there existed local bird habitat areas that were being neglected. Often the public landowners didn’t have the financial or human resources needed to promote their lands as exciting watchable wildlife locations. Working with Arizona Game & Fish, the cities of Sedona and Flagstaff and the Kachina Village improvement District, we have helped fund trails, viewing decks, signage and ramadas all in an effort to make these wonderful sites attractive to the public. We support community outreach by hosting a wide variety of field trips that bring in both local residents and visitors from around the world.

  • Social Media

Another example of our growth is the continued improvements to our website.  The site is now a full service communications vehicle for the Chapter. It is interactive and includes events calendar, membership services, birding maps and topical articles of interest to the birding community. A Facebook page compliments the site where interactive dialogue allows members and visitors to communicate the latest in birding news.

  • Membership

An automated membership system has dramatically simplified administration of both new and renewal memberships. Now most of our members join or renew using this secure system that automatically tracks terms and sends out reminders.

– Brent Bitz with Anita MacFarlane