In North America, Birds Will No Longer Be Named after People

05:11 November 6, 2023

In North America, Birds Will No Longer Be Named after People

Birds in North America will no longer be named after people. The American Ornithological Society announced the move Wednesday.

Next year, the organization will begin to rename around 80 birds found in the United States and Canada.

Colleen Handel is the organization’s president. She said: “There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today.”

“Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely,” Handel added.

Rather than review each bird named after a person individually, all birds named after people will be renamed, the organization announced.

Birds that will be renamed include those currently called Wilson’s warbler and Wilson’s snipe. Those are both named after the 19th century naturalist Alexander Wilson. Audubon’s shearwater, a seabird named for John James Audubon, also will get a new name.

In 2020, the organization renamed a bird that used to be named after Confederate Army General, John P. McCown. It is now called the thick-billed longspur.

“I'm really happy and excited about the announcement,” said Emily Williams. She is an ornithologist at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. who was not involved in the decision.

She said debates over bird names have been happening among birdwatchers for the past several years.

“Naming birds based on habitat or appearance is one of the least problematic approaches," Williams said.

Earlier this year, the National Audubon Society announced that it would keep its name. Some critics argued that the group should lose its connection to John James Audubon, whose family owned slaves.

“The name has come to represent so much more than the work of one person,” Susan Bell told Audubon magazine in March. She is chair of the National Audubon Society's Board of Directors. Bell added, “We must reckon with the racist legacy of John James Audubon.”

A 2020 incident in New York’s Central Park has been reported as an example of discrimination that Black people sometimes face when trying to enjoy the outdoors.

Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher, was looking for birds when he asked a white woman, Amy Cooper, to follow local rules and leash her dog. Cooper called the police and was later charged with filing a false police report. Police later dropped the charge.

Soon after, a group of birdwatchers organized the first Black Birders Week for Black nature lovers and scientists.

And a group called Bird Names for Birds sent a petition to the ornithological society urging it to create “a plan to change harmful common names” of birds.

I’m Gena Bennett.

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