From its first organizational meeting in Rochester in 1946, the Federation served as a mechanism for birders in the state to share their ideas and experiences and to promote research, education, and conservation. The Federation numbered more than forty bird
clubs in 1992, with a combined membership of over twenty thousand birders. It is governed by a council of delegates representing those clubs. Individual memberships are also accepted. Many 20th century ornithologists and prominent birders in New York State have been associated with the Federation, serving as club officers and
contributing to "The Kingbird" such as Peter Paul Kellogg, Arthur A. Allen, Winston Brockner, Eugene Eisenmann, and Sally Hoyt Spofford. The name of the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs was changed to the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA) at a vote of its Council of Delegates meeting on November 1, 2003.