Nothing Short of Life-Changing: A Reflection on Two Years as a Fellow at NYC Audubon

When I began my fellowship on July 12, 2022, I knew I was interested in the world of urban wildlife, but lacked direction and a point of view. Not to mention, I knew nothing about birds. Throughout my time with NYC Audubon, I have been given opportunities to learn about urban wild bird conservation, develop my own perspective and questions, and practice my developing expertise as a social scientist of urban wildlife conservation.

My position at NYC Audubon has been split into two distinct but related halves: Advocacy and Engagement. These halves have also served as a distinction between my Special Project and Direct Service work. My Special Project has been developing NYC Audubon’s advocacy initiatives for city- and state-level bird-friendly legislation. My Direct Service work has involved engaging directly with the public at NYC Audubon’s seasonal environmental center on Governors Island. 

My experience as an FAO Schwarz Fellow and a member of the team at NYC Audubon has been nothing short of life-changing.

Over the past two years, I have built out advocacy campaigns, organized rallies, testified at New York City Council, worked with elected officials, and engaged thousands of New Yorkers in taking action for wild birds. I am most proud of my work with Dustin Partridge, PhD—NYC Audubon’s Director of Conservation and Science—to research and write a guidance memo on drone light shows for the Mayor’s Office, which will soon be drafted into city-wide legislation to protect birds and people from the harmful effects of artificial light at night. I have also developed, coordinated, and conducted nature—and conservation—related programming for children and families on Governors Island and developed the analytical groundwork with which to measure progress as NYC Audubon continues developing bird outings and programming that engage the whole city and reflect the organization’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. 

With the development of experience and knowledge from the Fellowship, I acquired research assistantships with faculty from Rutgers University and Colorado State University to better understand the formation of hemispheric approaches to shorebird conservation, which will result in at least one published academic paper, a conference presentation in Canada, and a research trip to observe shorebird migration—and the people who study it—at the Delaware Bay this May. And, after a long and tasking application process, I am thrilled and honored to begin my PhD in Environmental Psychology at The Graduate Center at CUNY this fall. I plan to study the political ecology of queer cruising geographies in New York City as habitat for wild birds and sites of contestation between people and institutions/agencies. I will also continue to work at NYC Audubon part-time in a new role mainly devoted to advocacy.

My experience as an FAO Schwarz Fellow and a member of the team at NYC Audubon has been nothing short of life-changing. I’m looking forward to seeing the ways in which this experience continues to guide me in my career.


Picture of Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Bird Alliance (formerly NYC Audubon).