Birds Will No Longer Be Named for People in Americas
The American Ornithological Society will rename all birds named after people and will not name new birds after people going forward. Other names “deemed offensive and exclusionary” will also be changed. The organization is responsible for standardizing bird names in the Americas.
The change in policy recalls the debate about removing confederate and other historical statues.
New York Times journalist Katrina Miller offers two examples of birds that will be renamed: “Audubon’s shearwater, a bird found off the coast of the southeastern United States, will no longer have a name acknowledging John James Audubon, a famous bird illustrator and a slave owner who adamantly opposed abolition. The Scott’s oriole, a black-and-yellow bird inhabiting the Southwest and Mexico, will also receive a new moniker, which will sever ties to the U.S. Civil War general Winfield Scott, who oversaw the forced relocation of Indigenous peoples in 1838 that eventually became the Trail of Tears.”
“As scientists, we work to eliminate bias in science. But there has been historic bias in how birds are named, and who might have a bird named in their honor. Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 1800s, clouded by racism and misogyny, don’t work for us today, and the time has come for us to transform this process and redirect the focus to the birds, where it belongs. I am proud to be part of this new vision and am excited to work in partnership with a broad array of experts and bird lovers in creating an inclusive naming structure,” says Judith Scarl, Executive Director and CEO of the society.
Birder Christian Cooper thinks the name changes could ultimately help amateur birders. “There’s no reason to have a person’s name attached to a bird, because it doesn’t tell you anything about the bird,” he says. Instead, calling the Wilson’s warbler a “black-capped warbler,” for example, would give birders a clue as to what to look for to identify the bird.
Others see the policy as a misuse of time and effort. Jerry Coyne, birder and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, says policies like this “are really deeply injurious to science. We cannot go back through the history of science and wipe out everybody who was not a perfect human being.” He would rather see the time and energy invested in something like teaching marginalized kids about birds.
1. Should birds named after people be renamed? Consider the reputations of the people themselves as well as other reasons. Explain your answers.
2. What criteria would you use to name birds (or other animals)? Explain your answers.
3. Should we consider renaming anything else (for any reasons)? Consider animals, plants, buildings, roads, and anything else you might encounter on a daily basis. Explain your answers.
American Ornithological Society, “American Ornithological Society (AOS) Council Statement on English Bird Names,” americanornithology.org, Oct. 3, 2023
American Ornithological Society, “English Bird Names Project,” americanornithology.org (accessed Dec. 4, 2023)
Katrina Miller, “Birds in the Americas Will No Longer Be Named after People,” nytimes.com, Nov. 1, 2023