Ornithological Society’s Decision: Renaming Dozens of Birds, Abandoning Human Names

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Ornithological Society's Decision: Renaming Dozens of Birds, Abandoning Human Names
Ornithological Society's Decision: Renaming Dozens of Birds, Abandoning Human Names

The American Ornithological Society recently announced its decision to rename around 80 bird species that had been named after individuals, sparking a significant debate among bird enthusiasts. This move comes after years of discussion in the ornithological community, where many have argued against species being named after problematic figures from history. For instance, John James Audubon, a renowned ornithologist, was a slave owner, while John Kirk Townsend, namesake of the Townsend’s warbler and Townsend’s solitaire, collected skulls taken from Native American graves and promoted racist ideologies.

The renaming initiative aims to address these historical issues, particularly those related to figures involved in slavery, white supremacy, and desecration of Indigenous graves. Birds in the Inland Northwest, like the Steller’s jay, Brewer’s blackbird, and Wilson’s warbler, are expected to receive new names as part of this effort.

While naming debates have become increasingly common across the United States, the topic has been discussed within the birding community for years. Advocates for renaming argue that a bird’s name should reflect its appearance, habits, or habitat, rather than honoring individuals with problematic pasts. However, not everyone supports the idea of changing bird names, and some argue that historical figures should be viewed within the context of their time.

Dr. Marcie Logsdon, an avian veterinarian, supports the move to stop naming birds after people, as she believes past biologists shouldn’t have birds named after them simply because they were the first to describe a particular species. Critics like Ralph Kerr, a former president of the Coeur d’Alene Audubon Society, are more cautious and believe it’s unnecessary to rewrite history through renaming.

Joseph Haydock, a behavioral ecologist at Gonzaga University, is in favor of new names and believes that renaming birds won’t erase the history of past ornithologists. Spokane Audubon Society President Alan McCoy sees both positives and negatives in the renaming process, pointing out the need for increased diversity within birdwatching organizations as a valuable goal.

In essence, the renaming of bird species named after individuals is a complex issue that reflects ongoing discussions about historical figures’ legacies and the evolving values of the birdwatching community.

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