Five Women Making Bird Conservation Happen at ABC

This is the first part of a series highlighting the women who work at American Bird Conservancy. Read parts two and three

A female Northern Cardinal. Photo by Charlie Parr.

Conservation works best when we all get involved. At American Bird Conservancy (ABC), every person, whether they are doing fieldwork or paperwork, plays a part in our ongoing efforts to protect birds and their habitats in the Western Hemisphere. There are a lot of bird conservation heroes working behind the scenes at ABC — and women make up more than half of the ABC Flock! During Women's History Month, we are celebrating the dedication, talents, and expertise of some of the women who make ABC's work happen.

Joanna Eckles, Bird City Network Coordinator 

Joanna Eckles's love of birds has taken her all over, from working with raptors like Scout the Red-tailed Hawk to coordinating the Bird City Network for ABC. (All birds depicted here are handled by trained professionals with appropriate permits.)

As the Bird City Network Coordinator, Joanna is an integral part of this hemisphere-wide partnership between ABC and Environment for the Americas with major support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Launched in 2023, Bird City Network brings together communities to deliver on-the-ground conservation action for birds. Joanna's work is all about collaboration. She does a lot of writing, correspondence, training, and planning to bring members of the Network together to get results for birds. Thanks to Joanna's work, more than 200 communities across three countries are connecting and cooperating on their journeys to becoming healthier places for birds and people.

Joanna's favorite bird, or the bird that got her started on her career path: “Birds have been my obsession since 2nd grade. We put up a bird feeder and I soon memorized the whole bird book. My parents got interested too, having to find an outlet for my interest. Now I've worked with or on behalf of birds for over 35 years! I am especially enamored with migratory birds and love to travel to new places to see new species.”

What makes Joanna proud to be at ABC: “I'm proud that ABC saw the power of community conservation through Bird City to make a difference for birds and people and supported us in getting the Network up and running.”

Her advice to budding bird conservationists: “If you find your interests taking you in untraditional directions, follow them! Be proud and excited you have an interest to build from and try to find work where those interests and your skills coincide.”

Linnea Rowse, Great Lakes Private Lands Director

Linnea Rowse manages projects and partnerships across the Great Lakes, and she especially loves going into the field and supporting avian monitoring projects.

The Great Lakes region spans multiple states, two countries, and two of the four major migratory routes in North America. The region is big, geographically speaking, and it's also a big deal for birds like the Golden-winged Warbler! Linnea Rowse, ABC's Great Lakes Private Lands Director, coordinates projects across the region, keeping in contact with ABC's foresters and biologists on the ground and with partners. Linnea loves going into the field to help with monitoring projects at habitat management sites and meet with partners and private landowners to plan habitat projects that use regional best management practices for focal species. She also works with others on the Great Lakes team to design and implement strategic conservation initiatives for at-risk bird species.

Linnea's favorite bird, or the bird that got her started on her career path: “It's difficult to pick just one favorite bird. I love warblers, and specifically, my fieldwork with the Black-throated Blue Warbler helped to set my career path in motion.”

What makes Linnea proud to be at ABC: “I am proud of the on-the-ground deliverables that ABC accomplishes, specifically that we as an organization work to improve, restore, and conserve habitat for bird species of concern. I am also proud that ABC tackles big issues such as the impacts that cats have on birds.”

Her advice to budding bird conservationists: “I recommend trying out several different temporary field jobs if you are able to, in order to find what is most interesting to you and make connections with various NGOs, agencies, and researchers in this realm. Don't be afraid to reach out to people, ask questions, and make your interests known. Opportunities arise through good communication and curiosity!”

Rebekah Rylander, Science Coordinator, Rio Grande Joint Venture 

Rebekah Rylander, seen here holding a Green Jay, plans and coordinates projects for monitoring through the Rio Grande Joint Venture.

No two days are the same for Rebekah Rylander. And that makes sense: as the Science Coordinator for the Rio Grande Joint Venture (RGJV), Rebekah's work is binational and partner-focused and she's often on the road to conferences, meetings, and workshops throughout Texas and Mexico. Her job is data-driven. She is seeking to better understand how partners and organizations within the RGJV geography are delivering conservation efforts and using available science and local expert knowledge to create population models that can assist with conservation planning. Rebekah is also working with data from field crews (whom she hires, trains, and manages) for vegetation and bird monitoring on private lands to understand if the habitat management plans put in place are bringing back the plants and birds identified as priorities within the RGJV.

Rebekah's favorite bird, or the bird that got her started on her career path: “Black-crested Titmouse — I did my master's and dissertation on this spunky species!”

What makes Rebekah proud to be at ABC: “ABC provides the joint ventures (JV) with goals and guidance, but they also allow each JV to take their own approach to developing conservation strategies and actions. I am fortunate to work for a binational JV, and ABC is incredibly supportive of the amount of time and energy it takes to build relationships with partners that come from an array of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and customs.”

Her advice to budding bird conservationists: “Remain curious, remain positive, and love what you do. Take a chance on a field job that may toe your comfort zone. Be willing to learn new skills. And even though you may be exhausted and covered in bird poop at the end of the day, you'll look back on the experience with a smile, knowing that you persevered for a bigger cause.”

Kat Stonich, Digital Communications and Marketing Associate 

If you've ever opened an email from ABC, it was probably designed by our Digital Communications and Marketing Associate, Kat Stonich!

ABC's Digital Communications and Marketing Associate, Kat Stonich, does a little bit of everything to help ABC get its message out to its bird-loving audience. The emails that land in your inbox have all been expertly designed by Kat, and so have the text messages you might receive from us! She helps make sure our much-loved Bird of the Week emails hit your inbox on time and are full of great content and gorgeous photos. (Not signed up yet? Join our newsletter list and hear from Kat each week.) Kat brings a wealth of experience to their work at ABC, from their technical writing background to their graphic design skills, and bird knowledge from their years as a parent to pigeons!

Kat's favorite bird, or the bird that got them started on their career path: Pigeons are my favorite! We domesticated them, and they deserve love. The bird that got me interested in pursuing this kind of work, though, was the Roseate Spoonbill. I saw one on a dolphin-spotting trip in Florida when I was in college and was totally enamored.”

What makes Kat proud to be at ABC: “The change we make. Whenever I hear about a reserve we're working on, or a bird population increase we've helped with, I could not feel more proud of the work we do!”

Her advice to budding bird conservationists: “You CAN make a change — don't let anyone tell you otherwise!”

Liz Virgl, Texas Gulf Coast Education Specialist 

Liz Virgl is helping to make marine debris on the Texas Gulf Coast a thing of the past in her role as ABC's Texas Gulf Coast Education Specialist.

Liz Virgl describes her role as the Texas Gulf Coast Education Specialist as an “all-encompassing community engagement job,” so naturally, each day brings something different! On a given day, Liz could be planning the next beach cleanup, crafting classroom lessons, or designing social media posts to promote SPLASh (Stopping Plastics and Litter Along Shorelines, a collaboration between ABC, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, and Black Cat GIS). She is also out in the community, teaching students and community members about birds and mitigating marine debris

Liz's favorite bird, or the bird that got her started on her career path: “Currently, I love ducks like the whistling-duck!”

What makes Liz proud to be at ABC: “I am proud of the collaborative spirit of ABC and its commitment to protecting wildlife. ABC isn't afraid to take stances others may disagree with and be a true advocate for birds. I am especially proud of how ABC brings different stakeholders to the table through programs like Cats Indoors and SPLASh.”

Her advice to budding bird conservationists: “Not all careers are straight paths. If you are able, pursue multiple interests to see where your skills and passions intersect. You can work in conservation without having a science degree, too!”

There is much more to learn about (and from) the women at American Bird Conservancy! This is the first part of a series highlighting the women who work at American Bird Conservancy. Read parts two and three