Joy planting at the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in 2017. Photo: Kelly Knutson

Centers, Sanctuaries, & Chapters

Putting Her “Green Thumb” to the Ground for Birds

Local Audubon chapter leader is transforming Long Island with native plants.

Joy Cirigliano, President of Four Harbors Audubon Society (FHAS), is a native plant expert and dedicated conservationist. She’s taken her “green thumb” and put her passion and skill to use transforming gardens across Long Island.

It was nearly a decade ago that Joy became involved with her local Audubon chapter. It had a small board, no programming, and an expired 501c3. She channeled her passion for conservation into reenergizing the board, jumpstarting new programming and field trips, and reinstating the chapter’s 501c3. But from the start, her inspiration was always plants for birds.

“The main reason I took on the native plant work is because I believe that if we can just put as many native plants as possible back into our managed landscapes, both commercial and residential, and along our roadways and waste places, we can help to heal the environment,” explains Joy.

“Putting native plants in the ground can also lessen or negate the threats of extinction and carbon debts that will be coming in the next few decades, due to our changing climate.”

Joy is driven by a love of outreach and education. “I enjoy helping people understand how the natural world works, what's happening, why it's happening, and what can be done to help. It’s so gratifying to watch ‘the light go on’ as someone begins to comprehend not just the issues but how their positive contributions can help.”

Like the birds she works to protect, Joy sees no borders. Her reach goes far beyond her chapter territory. Joy is a known far and wide as a native plant expert, working collaboratively with sister chapters across Long Island to make communities greener and more bird-friendly.

A personal favorite project of Joy’s is the bird and butterfly garden she has helped to grow at Kings Park Library. She sees gardens as a teaching tool and an opportunity to educate the public about native plants, wildlife, and the natural world.

Joy is also a regular volunteer at the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center, where she provides valuable expertise to staff and free programming for visitors. The sanctuary’s property has been in the midst of exciting renovations, including the addition of several new native plant gardens. Joy has been instrumental in helping to choose the best plants for birds and pollinators at the site.

“Not only does she understand horticulture, but she is an ecosystem specialist which is kind of like a holistic doctor of native gardens,” says Center Manager Kathryn D’Amico. “She plants for the big picture to support the entire habitat.”

At this year’s Audubon Convention in Milwaukee, WI, Joy’s commitment to protecting birds and the places they need was recognized with Audubon’s William Dutcher Award* for the Atlantic Flyway.

Laura McCarthy, Audubon New York’s Network Engagement Manager, presented the award and said, “I know the energy Joy puts into Audubon comes from a place of deep concern, sometimes even despair, at the environmental challenges we face. But she channels that energy right where it needs to go – with the right partners and in the right places where she knows it’s making a positive impact.”

Joy’s vision for the future knows no bounds: “Every Audubon center should have a native plant garden, and each chapter should have a place to show and teach the average person that native plants can and will make a difference to the local ecosystems and the surrounding community.”

Bird watchers know how fascinating it can be to stand in one place and simply observe nature moving and flitting all around. Native plant gardens affect the well-being of birds and people alike, and can be a place of wonder and joy.

“If birds see no boundaries, should I?” wonders Joy. “I've read anecdotes about how, during migration, flocks of waterfowl used to darken the sky for hours as they passed, and I've thought about how awe-inspiring that would look. I would love to see that for myself, and for others, before I’m gone. A sense of wonder is a terrible thing to lose.”

Never lose your sense of JOY. Thanks to volunteers and chapter leaders like Joy, all across the Audubon network, amazing work is happening statewide and beyond. Click here to find a local Audubon chapter near you.

*William Dutcher was a prominent amateur ornithologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in 1905 was appointed the first President of the National Audubon Society.  The William Dutcher Award was created in his honor to recognize outstanding volunteer service by Audubon leaders that results in bird conservation at scale.  


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