I’m Proud To Be Part of Your Flock

An introduction to Elizabeth Gray, the first woman to hold the title president or CEO at Audubon.
Elizabeth Gray bands a female Redwinged Blackbird during her graduate field studies.

When I stepped into my role at Audubon in March, I became the first woman to hold the title of president in Audubon’s 116-year history. Two months later I was asked to become its first woman interim CEO. So it feels appropriate that the first issue of Audubon magazine published after my arrival is also the inaugural year of the Female Bird Prize in the Audubon Photography Awards. (The winning photo also happened to be taken by a woman photographer.) I am thrilled to become part of the Audubon network and have the chance to work alongside each and every one of you.

I wanted to take this space to briefly introduce myself and share why I joined Audubon in this leadership role. In a very real sense, I have returned to my roots. I began my career with birds, first studying homing pigeon navigation as an undergraduate, and then spending time in eastern Washington State studying Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds for my doctoral thesis work. I learned early on that calamity can strike swiftly: During my first field season, both species of blackbird filled the landscape with their unique songs. But the second year, the Yellow-headed Blackbirds did not return to their breeding marshes. This moment was my personal wake-up call. I knew something wasn’t right. And I decided to devote my career to conservation. After I finished my Ph.D., I worked in academia and in government and—for the bulk of my career—in conservation organizations, most recently heading up The Nature Conservancy’s global climate strategy.

What drove my interest in joining Audubon is all of you and your dedicated advocacy on behalf of birds and the communities we share—the power you have to influence conservation outcomes and address climate change is unmatched. A lot of that would not have happened without the leadership and vision of David Yarnold, Audubon’s most recent president and CEO. I want take a moment to thank David for helping refocus Audubon and make it into the powerhouse conservation organization it is today. 

As we map the future for this next chapter of Audubon’s history, I look forward to building the next generation of Audubon, where we cultivate new audiences and where differences are respected, valued, and essential to mission success. I am profoundly fortunate that my start at Audubon coincided with that of Jamaal Nelson, Audubon’s new chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer. I look forward to the many things we can accomplish together—at the member, chapter, organizational, and hemispheric level—to make Audubon and the world a better, safer, and more just place for people and birds. 

This piece originally ran in the Summer 2021 issue as “New Member of the Flock.” To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.