Announcing American Bird Conservancy's 2024 Conservation and Justice Fellows

ABC welcomes 14 talented individuals from across the Western Hemisphere.
Black Skimmers. Photo by Jo Crebbin/Shutterstock.

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is pleased to announce our second cohort of Conservation and Justice Fellows. Each Fellow will work on a specific project related to ethical and inclusive approaches to bird conservation in the Americas. Over the next year, they will explore complex questions, carry out interviews with ABC's staff and partners, make connections with new communities, undertake cross-disciplinary research, and create environmental education curricula and original works of art. Fellows will share what they learn about how bird conservation and justice can be interwoven in the places ABC works to conserve. We intend for what the Fellows discover through their explorations to inform our own work and bird conservation as a whole. We have already learned a great deal since hosting our first group of Fellows in 2022 and this group, which is larger than we anticipated, has already challenged how we think of the projects. One shift since we advertised these fellowships is that these are now all mid-career projects, but community engagement fellowships will require more time to complete. We will be giving out early-career seed grants later in the year.

The 2024 Fellows are listed below.

Indigenous Stewardship and Lifeways

Cheyenne Ironman

Community Engagement Fellow: Cheyenne Ironman (Canada)

Hosts: Naamal De Silva and Connor Jandreau

Despite the long history of Indigenous stewardship of land and biodiversity, Indigenous voices, values, and ways of knowing are often absent from conservation initiatives. The Indigenous Stewardship and Lifeways Fellow will support community engagement and coordination of the Indigenous Kinship Circle and amplify their perspectives and priorities for grasslands.

Cheyenne Ironman is Dakota from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located in the southwest region of Manitoba, Canada. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Brandon University and has held various project management roles working with many First Nations, including her home community. While with the Center for Indigenous Environmental Resources, Cheyenne created a field guide that combined Western scientific information on local birds with Dakota language and culture. She is devoted to helping others reconnect with their languages and cultures and believes that fostering relationships with nature will lead to a more sustainable future for all generations.

Lost Birds and Discovery Narratives

Community Engagement Fellow: Mar Espinosa (Ecuador)

Storytelling Fellows: Emily Hayflick (U.S.) and Jake Rayapati (U.S.)

Host: John Mittermeier

The Search for Lost Birds is a partnership between ABC, BirdLife International, and Re:wild that aims to support conservation actions for birds around the world that are currently “lost” — species that have no confirmed documentation in the past 10 or more years but are not considered extinct. From a conservation science perspective, learning more about these birds is vital, but lost birds and the quests to rediscover them also raise questions about the social and cultural understandings of a lost bird: Does this lost bird matter to people? If so, who finds it important and what types of meaning do they assign to the bird? This work also questions lost birds and discovery narratives in conservation: What are the benefits and pitfalls of discovery narratives for conservation and how does the historical legacy of these narratives influence their current role and applicability? 

Mar Espinosa

Mar Espinosa is an Ecuadorian biologist with more than 15 years of experience in conservation. Mar's current work focuses on understanding and supporting the needs and upholding the human rights of local communities in high biodiversity areas. Her early career was dedicated to studying animal behavior and color evolution. Now, she supports capacity building for social and environmental justice using participatory and collaborative methods, working with local stakeholders to address their needs through nature-based interventions. She is currently working on a conservation leadership program in Latin America through the University of Cambridge. As the Lost Birds Community Engagement Fellow, Mar seeks to understand how the community in the Andean Inter Valley perceives the Turquoise-throated Puffleg, a hummingbird last reported more than 60 years ago. By combining better agricultural practices with biodiversity conservation and compelling storytelling, Mar aims to support transformative change in the landscape and mobilize local communities for biodiversity conservation.

Emily Hayflick

Emily Hayflick is an anthropology PhD candidate at Cornell University. She researches how several U.S. communities maintain relationships with protected bird species, focusing on legislation that protects avian bodily materials once separated from a living animal either through molting or death. Through her research, she documents how these avian bodies are managed and for whom. As a Lost Birds Storytelling Fellowship, Emily will draw on her social science background and her experiences with natural history museums and collections to explore how notions of discovery, documentation, preservation, and expertise have shaped the trajectories and impacts of conservation narratives, especially those around lost birds.

Jake Rayapati

Jake Rayapati recently graduated with a master's from the University of Montana's International Conservation and Development Program and a graduate certificate in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution. In research and practice, Jake has worked alongside local and Indigenous communities in the northern Rockies and southern Africa to amplify the voices of people who disproportionately bear the costs of wildlife conservation in conservation decision-making. Through ABC's Conservation and Justice Fellowship, Jake will engage in community, storytelling, peer learning, and research while investigating the social and cultural understandings of lost birds and disentangling dominant conservation narratives of discovery.

International Partnerships for Migratory Birds

Francisco Puente

Partners in Flight Equitable Engagement Fellow: Francisco Miguel Puente (Mexico)

Host: Jennifer Davis

Partner: Elva Manquera, Klamath Bird Observatory

Partners in Flight (PIF) is a dynamic and welcoming network of more than 150 partner organizations distributed throughout the Western Hemisphere. PIF is engaged in all aspects of landbird conservation from science, research, planning, and policy development, to land management, monitoring, education, and outreach. The PIF Equitable Engagement Fellow will help to center the importance of ongoing landbird conservation efforts by Latin American and Caribbean partners. The Fellow will interview Latin American and Caribbean partners to better understand how PIF can best serve their needs.

Francisco Miguel Puente  is a Mexican biologist and conservationist, currently finishing his master's in Wildlife Conservation and Sustainability at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. He has developed several conservation programs, mainly in northern Mexico, focused on priority birds and habitats. His passion for ornithofauna and his interest in social inclusion in conservation has allowed him to develop projects at local, national, and international levels. As the PIF Equitable Engagement Fellow, Francisco will participate in identifying Latin American and Caribbean partners and projects in bird conservation, as well as highlighting the importance of conservation efforts and needs in these areas.

Neurodiversity and Birding

Ashley Hendee

Community Engagement Fellow: Ashley Hendee (U.S.)

Host: Jim Giocomo

The Neurodiversity and Birding Fellow will work with ABC and partners to communicate the importance of neurodiverse thinking for bird conservation work. The fellowship involves creating guidelines for neurodivergent-friendly bird trails, along with events and materials tailored for the Madison, Wisconsin/Rockford, Illinois area. The ultimate goal is to implement a pop-up version of the Autism Nature Trail recently built in a New York state park. This portfolio of work aims to improve the opportunities for access to green spaces and birding trails for neurodivergent communities. Later in the year, the Fellow will also engage the recipients of neurodiversity-focused seed grants.

Ashley Hendee has a master's in Special Education and more than 15 years of experience working with neurodiverse populations of all ages, diagnoses, and abilities, and she currently teaches early childhood education and coaches for the Illinois Special Olympics program. She comes with a deep passion for engaging with students and their families as they navigate life's differences in a world that is not set up with neurodiversity in mind. She has studied, and firmly believes in, the benefits of nature for those with neurodiversity, and will use her time as the Neurodiversity and Birding Community Engagement Fellow to work on birding basics and create meaningful activities that are accessible, comfortable, and engaging for neurodivergent people and families/caretakers.

Cross-Border Stewardship in the Sonoran Desert

Rochelle Morgan-Verdin

Community Engagement Fellow: Rochelle Morgan-Verdin (U.S.)

Host: Connor Jandreau 

Partner: Jennie Duberstein

The Sonoran Joint Venture (SJV) is a partnership of organizations, agencies, and individuals working to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. The SJV's mission is to build inclusive partnerships to steward just, equitable, healthy, and resilient environments for the birds, other wildlife, and people of the region. Over the last several years the SJV has created a vision and implementation plan for our stewardship work that is reflective, centered in respect, rooted in reciprocity, built on inclusive community-based approaches, holistic in its recognition of humans as part of nature, driven by cooperation rather than competition, and is ultimately an outcome of healing severed connections with and among each other, making stewardship and conservation emergent properties of justice and equity. The Fellow will work with SJV staff and board members to tell the story of this work, both from the perspective of the SJV as a partnership, as well as through the lenses of individual partners who are engaging in these efforts. 

Rochelle Morgan-Verdin is a proud citizen of the United Houma Nation. She holds a master's in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations-mandated University for Peace, as well as a bachelor's in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from Emory University. Currently, Rochelle serves as Policy Lead for International Affairs at the National Congress of American Indians, addressing critical issues impacting Indigenous Peoples worldwide. In 2024, she will serve as ABC's Fellow for the Cross-Border Stewardship in the Sonoran Desert Community Engagement Program.

Environmental Education in Coastal Texas

Cindy Anh Thư Nguyễn

SPLASh Community Engagement Fellow: Cindy Anh Thư Nguyễn (U.S.)

Host: Elizabeth Virgl

SPLASh (Stopping Plastics and Litter Along Shorelines) is an environmental education and beach cleanup program. The Community Engagement Fellow will support a year-long educational program for SPLASh in classrooms, using an understanding of local needs as well as feedback from students, teachers, and local partners to collaboratively shape this program and to create ways to extend or strengthen existing environmental literacy efforts. The Fellow will create opportunities for students to develop a greater appreciation for birds and nature, and motivate them to make local changes that mitigate marine debris and trash pollution in the region. 

Cindy Anh Thư Nguyễn is an artist, educator, and daughter of immigrants, born on Karankawa and Atakapa lands, where she grew up with kitchen gardens and sunrises at Galveston beach. Cindy's work centers around creating safe learning spaces for community well-being, environmental health, and youth leadership. Her work often informs her art practice, as she illustrates alternate worlds where extinct animals have futures, landscapes are healing, and diasporic memories become sites of joy and remembrance. As an educator, she practices culturally sustaining pedagogy and enjoys designing educational programs for multilingual audiences. Cindy is excited to bring her experience and passion for the ocean to design engaging and relevant environmental education for communities through the SPLASh project.

Seabirds and Stories of Multi-Species Kinship

Veronica Padula

Storytelling Fellow: Veronica Padula (U.S.)

Host: Sea McKeon

Seabirds were our first companions when we ventured onto the ocean. The Seabirds and Stories of Multi-Species Kinship Fellow will seek and share stories of kinship and connection between seabirds and maritime communities. We intend for these stories to help us reach new audiences with bold seabird conservation initiatives. The Fellow will also facilitate a small cohort of seed grant recipients with deep connections to the ocean: surfers, kiters, sailors, divers, fishers, and islanders from marine cultures and communities across the Western Hemisphere.

Veronica Padula was drawn to Alaska by its seabird populations and has called it home for the last 15 years, studying its seabirds and working for and with communities across the state. She received her PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, investigating the impacts of plastic pollution on seabirds in the Aleutian Islands, and the impacts of marine debris on coastal communities. She has worked for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government since 2017 and is currently the Chief Science Officer of the tribally-led Bering Sea Research Center, which conducts research considered critical by the community. While not Alaska Native herself, Veronica has felt welcomed and loved by the St. Paul Island community and works diligently to embody and represent the values and mission of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Tribal Government in broader contexts. Her passion has always been shaped by her deep love of and connection to seabirds because they hold in them stories of the ocean, the ocean's health, and our future. Recognizing and deepening kinship with seabirds is critical to fostering and strengthening conservation efforts, and Veronica is looking forward to the opportunity to work with American Bird Conservancy to continue those efforts.

Environmental Education in the Bahamas

Alvanna Johnson

Kirtland's Warbler Community Engagement Fellow: Alvanna Johnson (The Bahamas)

Hosts: Steve Roels

The dedicated efforts of numerous people led to the rescue of the charismatic Kirtland's Warbler from extinction on the breeding grounds in Michigan. However, its future depends on the persistence and integrity of nonbreeding grounds in The Bahamas. Building cultural awareness and appreciation in Bahamian communities is essential to ensure that this species will continue to delight admirers wherever they live along the bird's amazing migratory pathways. The Bahamian Fellow will develop environmental education and outreach projects focused on the Kirtland's Warbler. The Fellow will interview teachers participating in an existing outreach program, draft and pilot curricular materials for K-8 students, facilitate cross-cultural communication between Bahamian and Michigan (U.S.) classrooms, and produce public media that tells the story of the Kirtland's Warbler in The Bahamas.

Alvanna Johnson is a proud Eleutheran (native of Eleuthera, The Bahamas) who has always loved nature and developed her love and knowledge of birds while working at the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, a national park on Eleuthera. There, she learned about the many species that migrate to and through The Bahamas and about the obstacles they face moving back and forth from their breeding grounds to their wintering homes. Throughout this fellowship and beyond, Alvanna hopes to shine a light on and spread awareness of the importance of the Kirtland's Warbler and other birds as great contributors to the ecosystem and involve everyone, especially the youth, in ensuring that all Bahamian birds have the environment needed to thrive. 

Together for Birds Artist Residency

Storytelling Fellows: Omar Custodio (Peru) and Jon Ching (U.S.)

Hosts: Lynne Mecum and Naamal De Silva

Omar Custodio

Birds bring so many of us joy and add beauty and vibrancy to our lives. The tradition of avian subjects in art is as old as art itself, depicted through time by people around the world in oil, ink, stone, clay, cotton, and silk. In many cultures and traditions, birds and the idea of flight represent peace and freedom. At American Bird Conservancy, birds inspire us daily to restore and protect the natural world. The Together for Birds Fellowship provides visual artists with the opportunity to explore the connections between birds, conservation, and culture. We intend for the Fellows to translate some of our work at these intersections into engaging images. 

Jon Ching

Omar Custodio is a Peruvian biologist and scientific illustrator with experience in zoology and ecology, particularly in ornithology. As a scientific illustrator, he has recently focused on bird ecology. Since 2012, he has been an associate researcher at the Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI). In 2022, he was honored as the “Artist of the Year” for World Migratory Bird Day by Environment for the Americas (EFTA). His motivation for this fellowship stems from his passion for community engagement. Currently, he leads the "Urban Birds of Lima" Project in Peru, which connects to various urban groups through birding activities. He aims to design visual and cultural materials highlighting the interaction between birds and native plants. Additionally, this year he is focusing on developing educational resources tailored for people with visual impairments.

Jon Ching grew up steeped in natural beauty on the island of O'ahu, Hawai'i, which formed the foundation of his deep fascination with the natural and wild world. A self-taught oil painter, Jon's devoted art practice and detailed realism are inspired by the interconnectedness of nature. During his time as Resident Artist and Storytelling Fellow, Jon will be making work that highlights the remaining Hawaiian honeycreepers and exploring their connections to culture, past and present. He hopes this work can help build new relationships between people and Hawai'i's endemic birds. 

California Coasts Tribal Engagement

Sabrina Mehtabuddin

C3JV Community Engagement Fellow: Sabrina Mehtabuddin (U.S.)

Host: Connor Jandreau

The California Coasts Tribal Engagement Fellow will work alongside the California Central Coast Joint Venture (C3JV)  to explore strategies for building a conservation approach that supports and uplifts Indigenous stewardship and sovereignty. The C3JV works through partnerships and leverages resources to conserve habitats and biodiversity for people and wildlife alike.

Sabrina A. Mehtabuddin works to advance community connection, conservation, and educational sovereignty. Sabrina served on the Executive Board of Teach for America New Mexico during her time as a Corps Member and teacher at Tsé Bit A'í Middle School in Shiprock, Navajo Nation. As President of the Kern Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, she spearheaded the area's first native plant nursery and programming to include BIPOC in conservation spaces. A R.O.S.E. mentor, Sabrina provides guidance to high school Latinas with unique vulnerabilities as they navigate seeking jobs, applying to college, networking, engaging in workshops, and everyday life. She is the founder of Mission Driven Leaders and previously worked as a corporate paralegal. As a multiracial, queer, Indigenous leader, Sabrina A. Mehtabuddin joins the 2024 Conservation and Justice Fellows prepared to advance environmental justice and tribal sovereignty while deepening a relationship with a broader community — including birds!

Big Bend Bird Conservation and Culture

Koyana Nakaya Flotte

Community Engagement Fellow: Koyana Nakaya Flotte (U.S.)

Host: Karen Chapman

Partner: Shelley Bernstein, Big Bend Conservation Alliance

The Big Bend Bird Conservation and Culture Fellow will work with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, American Bird Conservancy, and other Rio Grande Joint Venture partners to center Indigenous voices, stories, and language while working with community members, researching local histories, and bridging local ecology and the natural history of the Big Bend region on land owned by the People of La Junta. As part of this work, the Fellow will engage with the public through storytelling and culturally relevant education about birds.

Koyana Nakaya Flotte is an anthropologist, cultural bearer, and communal steward from the Native American border communities of La Junta in present-day Presidio, Texas-Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico. Koyana holds a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Harvard University based on research in the United States, Mexico, and Central America that followed the migratory journey and lives of hundreds of Central American refugees. Koyana is a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and serves as a consultant for the Big Bend Conservation Alliance as an Indigenous Programs Curator.

Learn more about the Conservation and Justice Fellowship in our Future of Conservation and Birds for All webinars and meet our 2022 cohort and the recipients of our Together for Birds Seed Grants.


American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Media Contact

Jordan Rutter
Director of Communications