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Bird Conservation Organizations Uplanders Should Support
These nonprofit bird organizations are working to save the future of birds in North America.
Five years ago, back when I first started hunting, one of the first things I did was network with experienced hunters. Growing up, no one in my family hunted, and I had no close friends whose families regularly hit the woods in search of wild game. Locating a hunting community became a priority, so I sought out like-minded humans to learn from, connect with, and help make my new hobby feel less lonely. As it turned out, joining conservation organizations became a great way to do just that.
I was already a member of several wildlife-based organizations due to my admiration for wild birds. I joined The Wildlife Society as an undergraduate, participated in the Christmas Bird Count hosted by the National Audubon Society in Madison, Wisconsin, and donated to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology when I could because I loved their bird identification and mapping tools so much. Identifying similar organizations centered around hunting and conservation didn’t take me long.
There are countless bird conservation organizations in North America. Some of them center around upland birds, others on waterfowl conservation. Others focus on neotropical migrants or endangered species. Whether you lean more towards restoring tall grass prairies, supporting a specific species, or protecting wetland areas, there’s a bird conservation organization for you.
Here’s a handful of international, national, and regional bird conservation organizations any conservationist looking to get more involved should consider joining and supporting. As we all know, protecting, conserving, and restoring native bird habitats benefits countless other wildlife species that depend on these ecosystems. By supporting organizations like these, you’re helping future generations enjoy the landscapes and birds we all love.
National Game Bird Conservation Organizations
North American Grouse Partnership
Thirteen concerned wildlife biologists formed the North American Grouse Partnership in 1999. The NAGP is an international organization that “brings the plight of declining grouse species and their habitats to the attention of the public, provides oversight for the health of grouse populations, implements solutions to the problems causing grouse declines and encourages public policies and management decisions that will enhance important habitats and grouse populations.” As their name implies, they focus on all native grouse species throughout North America.
The NAGP offers several levels of membership. Folks can sign up for an annual membership at the Forest Grouse level for $35, the Sharp-tailed Grouse level for $100, the Prairie Chicken level for $250, the Ptarmigan level for $500, or become a member for life at the Sage Grouse level for $1,000. Membership comes with benefits, including a NAGP decal, a subscription to their newsletter, grouse conservation news, and more.
Learn More: North American Grouse Partnership
Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever may just be the most prolific modern upland bird conservation organization. Founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pheasants Forever has focused on protecting upland bird habitats since 1982. Their headquarters are still located there today, as is their enormous national convention, Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, every three years. In 2023, over 33,000 people attended the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Quail Forever came into the picture in 2005. Pheasants Forever formed it as their new quail division in response to declining quail numbers across North America. According to their website, the mission of this quail-centric branch is to “conserve quail, pheasants, and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public access, education, and conservation advocacy.”
Annual memberships to PF & QF costs $35 annually. They also offer $25 student memberships and $15 youth memberships. Each membership includes a subscription to the Journal of Upland Conservation, a calendar, invitations to local and national events, and more.
Learn More: Pheasants Forever
Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society
The Ruffed Grouse Society has been around since 1961. RGS has supported science-based forest and wildlife conservation since the organization’s inception. The American Woodcock Society was founded in 2014; however, the two groups operate as one. The idea between the two native bird-centric groups is to unite upland bird hunters to support healthy, well-managed forests.
Read: Dr. Ben Jones President and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society – Champion of the Bellwether
Hunters, conservationists, birders, and wildlife enthusiasts can join either group for $35 a year. Additionally, one can join both groups simultaneously for an annual fee of $60. Membership benefits include access to their extensive network of wildlife professionals, local events, and hands-on land stewardship opportunities. They also offer a Junior Membership option for folks 17 years of age or younger. All memberships come with a subscription to Covers Magazine, too.
Learn More: Ruffed Grouse Society
Ducks Unlimited (and Ducks Unlimited Canada)
Ducks Unlimited is one of the oldest bird conservation organizations in North America. Founded in 1937, the same year the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed, this group started when waterfowl populations plummeted after the Dust Bowl. Today, they’re the “largest and most effective private waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization.” If you care about ducks, geese, and the thousands of other species that rely on waterfowl habitats, DU is for you.
As of 2021, 88 percent of DU’s donation dollars have gone towards its mission to “conserve, restore, and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl.” You can join Ducks Unlimited for $35, $50, $100, or $250 annually. Membership with DU comes with a one-year subscription to the Ducks Unlimited Magazine, special access to their website, invitations to local and national DU events, and decals.
Learn more: Ducks Unlimited
Regional Upland Bird Conservation Organizations*
Lesser Prairie-chicken Landowner Alliance
If you’re a landowner in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, or Oklahoma, consider joining the Lesser Prairie-chicken Landowner Alliance. This alliance consists of private landowners and producers that voluntarily work with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to conserve Lesser Prairie-chickens on their land. The technical assistance the NRCS provides is free, and financial aid to implement conservation strategies is readily available.
Learn More: Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative
Michigan Sharp-tailed Grouse Association
The MSGA promotes “the propagation of sharp-tailed grouse in Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas through sound scientific management.” They help inform private landowners about sharpie conservation and best practices for managing their land to protect the bird, teach the public and the habitat needs of sharptail grouse, and educate hunters about where to hunt sharptails in Michigan. Annual memberships to the MSGA start at $25 a year.
Learn More: Michigan Sharp-tailed Grouse Association
Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society
Founded in 1973, MPCS has a primary goal of “increasing public awareness of prairie chickens and their grassland habitat.” Since its inception, MPCS has purchased and protected 14 tracts of land, educates landowners about prairie chicken conservation, builds and maintains observation blinds near lek sites, and advocates for legislation that protects prairie chickens and their habitat. You can join them starting at $15 a year. They also offer scholarships to undergraduates studying wildlife ecology in Minnesota.
Learn More: Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society
Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society
The Minnesota Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society has over 300 members and is “dedicated to the management and restoration of sharptails in Minnesota for hunters and non-hunters.” MSGS offers opportunities to view lekking sharpies, publishes quarterly newsletters, provides funding to the MNDNR for prescribed burns, contracts out habitat work on wildlife management areas, and more. You can join them starting at $25 a year.
Learn More: Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society
Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society
The WSGS has protected Wisconsin’s rarest upland bird species, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, and its globally endangered habitat since 1990. Its 200 members advocate for sharpies, educate the public about this species, and encourage science-based management of this species and the pine barrens. You can join the Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society even if you don’t live in the state, starting at $30 a year.
Learn More: Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society
Sisk-a-dee, the Shoshone word for sage grouse, is the name of a nonprofit based in Gunnison, Colorado. They advocate for conserving the incredibly rare Gunnison Sage-grouse and its sagebrush habitat. This 25-plus-year-old group partners with private landowners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the federal government to protect this species and offer coordinated viewing opportunities during their lekking season. You can see the Gunnison Sage-grouse yourself by reserving a spot at the Waunita Viewing Site in April, run by the Watchable Wildlife Program. They take donations by check and through their website.
Learn More: Sisk-a-dee
*If you know of a regional bird conservation organization near you, let us know, and we’ll add it to our list.
National Bird Conservation Organizations
American Bird Conservancy
The American Bird Conservancy’s mission is to “conserve wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.” Guided by science, this international organization prevents extinction, prevents declining species from being listed as endangered, restores bird habitats, and reduces threats to bird populations. The ABC partners with public and private groups to benefit all birds. Private citizens can make a tax-deductible donation to the ABC, and other conservation groups can join their Bird Conservation Alliance.
Learn More: American Bird Conservancy
International Crane Foundation
The ICF is based in Baraboo, Wisconsin, right down the road from Aldo Leopold’s historic shack. For over 50 years, the International Crane Foundation has “led effective community-based conservation programs, important research projects, and innovative captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.” The Foundation is open to the public; visitors can view their 100+ captive cranes. You join the organization and become a “Craniac” starting at $40 a year.
Learn More: International Crane Foundation
National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society is the United State’s oldest bird conservation organization. Founded in 1896 by two women, Harriet Hemenway and Minna B. Hall, the group’s list of accomplishments is long. The Audubon Society has done everything from advocating for the passing of 1918’s Migratory Bird Treaty Act to developing a strategic partnership with Esri, the leader in GIS mapping capabilities. You can become a member starting at $20 a month.
Learn More: National Audubon Society
The Wildlife Society
Although The Wildlife Society isn’t bird-specific, this organization does immeasurable work for wildlife conservation. TWS’s mission is to “inspire, empower and enable wildlife professionals” by giving them resources to succeed. However, you don’t need to work in the field of wildlife to join. If you’re interested in wildlife science, management, and conservation, you can join for $91 a year. Members receive a subscription to their publication, The Wildlife Professional, discounted conference registration fees, access to their professional networking tools, and more.
Learn More: The Wildlife Society
Other Ways to Get Involved with Bird Conservation
Joining organizations isn’t the only way to get more involved with upland bird conservation. If you’d rather spend time, not dollars, on supporting wild birds, consider logging your bird sightings on eBird. eBird is the world’s largest citizen science-based resource regarding bird data, and anyone can add information. I also recommend downloading the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird identification app, Merlin. Merlin is a priceless resource for identifying birds, plus it’ll come in handy when looking for species’ native ranges, learning your quarry’s bird calls, and telling the difference between male and female and juvenile and adult birds. You can find nearly every bird in North America on Merlin.
Another great way to get involved with bird conservation near you is to call your local wildlife biologist. Volunteering with your state game agency and learning about conservation efforts near you is an excellent way to donate your time and help conserve the same bird populations you hunt every year. Additionally, if you’re a landowner, talk to your local wildlife managers about best practices for managing your property for wild birds. There are tons of ways to increase the bird habitat on your land, and small steps you can take in your garden or yard today will help improve native bird habitat down the line.
Most of us fell in love with birds through upland hunting. By extending this love to nongame species, habitats increase in quality, native bird populations grow, and landscapes are restored. Whether you donate your time, dollars, or land to conservation, future generations will thank you.
Gabby Zaldumbide is the managing editor of Project Upland. She lives on Colorado's western slope where she teaches hunting, angling, and shooting skills. Gabby has an undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology, a master's in public land management, and an honorary PhD in loving her pets.
I think that American Praire is also a large, worthwhile organization. They allow public accsss to their lands and have some camping sites. I’ve started making fairly large contribution.
Nice article but you forgot delta waterfowl!
Nice article but you forgot the Big Sky Upland Bird Association. We have even been featured in your magazine! Regards, Ben Deeble, Pres.