Partners in Flight Team
A Message from Bob Ford, PIF Coordinator
My love of being outdoors has always been fueled by chasing birds – an early start at 6 years old duck hunting with my father led to active birding with the Tennessee Ornithological Society as a teenager. I still duck hunt. And I’m still a member of the bird club in which I “grew up.” As I studied Wildlife Biology in college, I began to realize that a future in “bird work” for me meant either university research or a nongame program, which at the time focused on supplementing habitats with nest boxes or restoring endangered species with programs like hacking Bald Eagles. It was great work, but ultimately not for me – I was becoming much more interested in emerging concepts of landscape ecology and conservation biology, while realizing I had been consistently drawn to community ecology. And I knew I wanted to keep a solid grounding in the field but also be able to create and influence policies.
Partners in Flight (PIF) provided me the perfect opportunity to exercise my interest in habitat management, combining the objectives of game and nongame management, and applying the concepts of tract size and connecting corridors to PIF’s vision of conservation landscapes. I still consider myself mostly a community ecologist who knows a lot about birds, rather than a research-oriented ornithologist. PIF has provided me with the opportunity to travel extensively across the continent, where in each place, I can spend time with the best local and regional ecologists to better understand the natural community structure and composition, what disturbance factors drive the dynamics of the community, how the pattern of these communities fit into a large landscape context, and most importantly, how bird populations respond to the current content and context of these places. PIF opened all of those doors.
My story is one of hundreds. People have come to this network through different routes from different backgrounds. For PIF’s 30th anniversary year, we asked our partners to share their stories of becoming involved in Partners in Flight, and how their involvement has been beneficial. Please enjoy these rich Testimonials.
Partners in Flight is one of the most inspiring parts of my job as state ornithologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. I learned about Partners in Flight from my predecessor, Brad Jacobs (also pictured) – who worked tirelessly to pursue avenues for state agencies to support full life-cycle conservation, including advocating for the Southern Wings Program. Partners in Flight springboards agencies and NGOs into the world of full life-cycle conservation using its professional and coordinated network of diverse partners from across the hemisphere; They keep us informed of full life-cycle opportunities, partnerships, and the challenges faced by migratory birds. Through PIF’s platform, I’ve met and been inspired by amazing conservationists from across the hemisphere working tirelessly for conservation to preserve, manage, and restore our natural world for our shared birds – what a gift!
After living in Texas for over 20 years I found my way to Arizona in 2005 to begin work as a bird biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Since my first year on the job I have been coordinating a state bird conservation partnership that fully embraces PIF’s mission. My role as a state coordinator has included active participation in PIF Western Working Group, where I have met many dedicated bird conservationists, from whom I have learned how to work internationally, to cultivate partnerships, and to develop new mechanisms for conserving both migrant and resident bird species. PIF’s focus on full life-cycle conservation for me has also meant rewarding opportunities to engage partners in Mexico and Central America to work together in conserving shared species. I look forward to many more years of working together to advance landbird conservation across the Hemisphere.
Después de vivir en Texas durante más de 20 años, encontré mi camino a Arizona en 2005 para comenzar a trabajar como biólogo especializado en aves en la Secretaría de Vida Silvestre de Arizona. Desde mi primer año en el trabajo, he sido el coordinador de una alianza de conservación de aves (a nivel estatal) la cual encaja plenamente en la misión de Compañeros en Vuelo (PIF, por sus siglas en inglés). Mi función como coordinador de la alianza ha incluido mi participación activa en el Grupo de Trabajo de Occidente de PIF, donde he conocido a muchos actores importantes que dedican su vida a la conservación de las aves, de quienes he aprendido a coordinar alianzas tanto regionales como internacionales , a construir redes de conservación y a desarrollar nuevos mecanismos y estrategias que permita asegurar la protección de las aves migratorias y las residentes por igual. El enfoque de conservación que promueve PIF, durante el ciclo de vida completo de las aves, ha significado oportunidades gratificantes a nivel personal y profesional, como la oportunidad de colaborar con socios en México y América Central para trabajar juntos en la conservación de las especies que compartimos. Espero tener muchos años más trabajando juntos para promover la conservación de las aves terrestres en todo el hemisferio.
I came up through the ranks of inspiration, attending my first Partners in Flight meeting in 1993, then stepping into the Colorado PIF Chair position in 1995 in time for the PIF Cape May National Meeting. Once hooked there was no return, deep into the PIF Western Working Group (WWG), co-chairing the International Working Group, joining the Steering Committee, later leading the PIF Awards Committee. Partners in Flight is about a sense of belonging. A place of friendship and camaraderie with those who share a passion for birds and their conservation, with ready access to expertise and support. It is about shared experiences—in meetings and conference hallways, through amazing birding in amazing places. It reaches back to the beginnings of our careers, with those memories being the best of our entire working lives, the most satisfying, rewarding and fun. Of raising priorities and making progress on them, of influencing others to join the flock, that welcoming fellowship and esprit de corps that is PIF. Of standing shoulder to shoulder in a solid line of commitment and defense to protect our feathered friends which so enrich our lives. My strongest, most PIF wonderful memories that I can conjure up at a moment’s notice relate to the magic of international partnerships: Marching down the streets of Autlán behind a lively band, to gather at the Plaza Centrál and dance the Macarena before our PIF WWG meeting there. Watching an educator from Querétaro, Mexico, talk under totem poles at a Vancouver WWG meeting with an Inuvialuit elder. The faces of those incredibly capable and dedicated young PIF Mesoamerica ornithologists, now bird conservation leaders in their countries, teasing Mama Carol about her curly hair in the tropical air. How can such experiences not cement your commitment to the cause, to each other?
I was like a lot of working ornithologists in 1992 who were more interested in warblers, sparrows, and flycatchers than turkeys and ducks when we got news of the creation of this new bird conservation partnership, Partners in Flight. I was in North Dakota then, participating in the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture. When we realized that all these great landbirds could now be in a legitimate mix with the experience and strategies of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, it was exciting, to say the least! I spent the next 24 years working in positions in the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that did not exist before Partners in Flight. Thanks to the visionaries and those who never quit.
In the early 1990’s, my family, the birth of my son, and my work at Colorado Bird Observatory launched almost simultaneously. Colorado Partners in Flight was also organized, and it was there that I met so many enthusiastic bird conservationists and became involved in PIF. By the mid-1990’s, I was assisting with the development of education materials for International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), PIF’s sentinel education program, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In 1999, I was selected by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to coordinate IMBD. In the blink of an eye, a decade had passed. In so many ways, the activities of PIF have served as a foundation for the work of every organization where I have worked, including Environment for the Americas. Beyond the science, conservation, education, and international programs and activities in which I have been involved, I have developed many long-lasting work relationships and friendships through PIF. It is truly a family in itself!
My graduate school years solidified two things about my ideal career path: I wanted to always be involved in science-based, large-scale habitat management efforts for birds of concern, and partnerships were the way to get the science and the on-the-ground work done. When I started my first professional job with the state of Kentucky, I began working with various members of Southeast PIF to actively and intentionally identify common objectives between migratory birds and resident gamebirds in grasslands and early successional habitat…and that’s where I got hooked. I then served as Kentucky’s Wildlife Diversity Coordinator for a few years, increasing my engagement in PIF, and also started serving on management boards for migratory bird Joint Ventures in Kentucky that were mainly focused on the landbirds for which PIF had responsibility, given the geography of these partnerships. PIF became “a lifestyle” for me at that point, working in partnership locally, regionally, and nationally to conserve landbirds. Since my first engagement with PIF, I have had the privilege to work with PIF partners throughout the country, learned a tremendous amount from David Pashley while working for him, and have been involved in amazing domestic and international projects and partnerships for the conservation of migratory birds. Thank you, Partners In Flight, for being an amazing and inclusive voice for bird conservation!
As we celebrate Partners in Flight’s 30th anniversary, I reflect on how Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) emerged from PIF as a product of the bird conservation initiative. Through PIF we built KBO by working locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally to develop an integrated collection of partner-driven bird conservation projects. KBO’s efforts to advance bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships remain focused on Partners in Flight collaborations that make significant contributions to PIF bird conservation priorities. These include:
- Klamath Bird Monitoring Network
- Klamath-Siskiyou Oak Network
- National Park Service Klamath Network and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Pacific Region inventory and monitoring programs
- Avian Knowledge Network, Avian Knowledge Northwest, and eBird Northwest
- North American Banding Council
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative
- Forest Service International Programs Wings Across the Americas and Western Hummingbird Partnership
- Environment & Climate Change Canada Migratory Bird Conservation
- Costa Rica Bird Observatories, San Pancho Bird Observatory, and Mantiqueira Bird Observatory
- and MANY MORE!
Personally, my involvement in Partners in Flight has brought me enduring collaborations, inspiring challenges, scientific contributions, conservation success stories (and enlightening shortfalls), and life-long friendships.
Emily Jo Williams
You might say that I snuck in the back door of Partners in Flight. I was hired as the Georgia Partners in Flight Coordinator by the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Program in 1995, not because of my bird expertise but because I was a good fit to help make songbird conservation an acceptable and maybe even cool part of a mostly hook and bullet agency. I must have gotten a few things right as I was in that role for 10 years, and despite a lot of great jobs in wonderful places since then, being the Partners in Flight coordinator is still my best job ever. I got to travel all over Georgia and talk to people about neotropical migrants, assist with research on some of the coolest species like Painted Buntings and Swallow-tailed Kites, engage with educators to develop some wonderful outreach tools, partner with my waterfowl brethren to acquire critical lands in need of protection and conservation management, and conserve wintering habitat through a parrot-based partnership in the Cayman Islands! And, I got to play way outside my lane by getting involved with PIF at the Southeastern and national level. The first time I met David Pashley, he introduced me to PIF as a welcoming place that didn’t require a doctorate in ornithology or a resume stuffed full of bird conservation accomplishments. You just had to show up, be willing to participate, and PIF would reveal your best way to contribute. I credit PIF – that wonderful eclectic collection of people dedicated to birds both common and uncommon – with some of my most valuable lessons learned, so many lasting friendships, countless enjoyable memories, and, of course, great birds. I’m a proud PIFer through and through and have the Redstart tattoo on my heart to prove it.
After three years living and working with birds in Chiapas, México, I moved to Gettysburg in 1997 and drove to DC to explore opportunities with American Bird Conservancy—where I first heard about Partners in Flight. What a phenomenal mission, I remember thinking—working in voluntary partnership to celebrate the spectacle of bird abundance and recover species in decline! When I landed a job as a landbird biologist with USFWS in the Twin Cities in 2001, imagine my delight when one of my first assignments was to attend the PIF conference at Asilomar. Career-shifting… ever since, I’ve served on both the PIF Science and Steering committees. Even though we do conservation because there is no other choice, the source of energy that always kept me going through dark times was the unfailing camaraderie of purpose and spirit of my PIF sisters and brothers… and the birds that save us.
I got involved in Partners in Flight ten years ago through my work at the Canadian Wildlife Service, my involvement has grown over the years and I now co-chair the PIF International Scientific Committee. My favorite part of PIF is the amazing colleagues who come together to share their passion for birds and conservation. The mission of PIF is to keep common birds common and help recover species at risk through voluntary partnerships. For me the two words – voluntary and partnerships are key, everyone who participates in PIF is there because they want to be and we all recognize that we can’t reach our goals without working together. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together in the next 30 years!
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