Birding Community Embraces Inclusivity by Renaming Dozens of Avian Species

In a move aimed at promoting inclusivity and diversity within the birding community, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) has announced an initiative to rename American birds and dozens more.

This significant change seeks to remove human monikers from bird species’ English names, addressing concerns about offensive and exclusionary nomenclature.

Anna's Hummingbird is among the American birds set for a name change.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Rhododendrites, License: CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED
Anna’s Hummingbird is among the American birds set for a name change.

The Power of Names

Bird names carry immense significance, not only for birdwatchers but also for the broader community. Names have the power to shape perceptions and attitudes.

As AOS president Colleen Handel told NPR, names can either be a force for good or harm. The initiative aims to harness this power for positive change.

The AOS acknowledges that certain bird names have offensive or derogatory connotations, causing pain to individuals and communities. These problematic names serve as barriers to broader participation in the world of birds. As part of this endeavor, the AOS will remove names associated with historical figures or other problematic references, making birding more accessible and welcoming.

Gambel's Quail is another species with a human name that will be transformed.

Photo: Callipepla gambelii female, Wikimedia Commons / Alan D. Wilson, License: CC BY-SA 2.5 DEED
Gambel’s Quail is another species with a human name that will be transformed.

Instead of honoring individuals with bird names, the focus will now be on highlighting the unique characteristics and beauty of these avian species.

The AOS aims to start by renaming approximately 70 to 80 bird species predominantly found in the United States and Canada. This change will affect around 6-7% of bird species in this region, signaling a substantial transformation, the Associated Press reports.

Lewis's Woodpecker will shed its historical moniker for a fresh one.

Photo: Lewis’s Woodpecker, Wikimedia Commons / www.naturespicsonline.com, License: CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED
Lewis’s Woodpecker will shed its historical moniker for a fresh one.

Rooted in History and Social Justice

This initiative didn’t emerge overnight. While bird names have occasionally been altered for scientific reasons, the focus on social justice is relatively new. It gained momentum in 2020 after incidents such as the killing of George Floyd and a racially charged encounter in Central Park, where a white woman falsely accused a Black birder.

In response, a group known as Bird Names for Birds raised concerns about eponymous honors and urged the AOS to address the issue, reports the New York Times. The AOS responded by officially renaming a bird that had previously been named after Confederate General John P. McCown, calling it the “Thick-billed Longspur.” The renaming of a single bird marked the beginning of a more significant initiative to address the issue comprehensively.

The AOS’s plan is not only focused on changing bird names but also on involving the public in the process, reports the AP. The society promises to establish a naming committee and seek input from bird enthusiasts and experts.

Bullock's Oriole will soon have a new name, reflecting its characteristics.

Photo: Bullock’s Oriole, Wikimedia Commons / Kevin Cole, License: CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED
Bullock’s Oriole will soon have a new name, reflecting its characteristics.

A Call for Inclusivity in Birding

In the broader context, this initiative seeks to make birding more inclusive and diverse. The hope is that this change will enable a wider range of people, regardless of their background, to engage with and appreciate the avian world. By addressing exclusionary practices in bird naming, the AOS aims to inspire more individuals to join efforts to protect these precious creatures, reports CBS News.

With North America experiencing a significant decline in bird populations, bird conservation is more critical than ever. The AOS believes that fostering inclusivity in birding will lead to a stronger and more united front to protect these vital members of our ecosystems.

This move to rename American birds and dozens more is not just about changing names; it’s about changing the narrative and creating a birding community that welcomes all. It’s a step toward ensuring that everyone can enjoy and study birds freely, as we collectively work to protect these remarkable creatures.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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