Birds Named After People? That's For the Birds

Nov 6, 2023

Be prepared to bid a fond, feathered farewell to Cassin’s kingbird, Wilson’s warbler, and Ross’s goose.

No, these North American birds aren’t going extinct. But their names are. The American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced the change on Wednesday. Many birds are named after people. AOS stated that between 70-80 species of these birds will be getting new names. The goal, AOS explains, is to fly away from names that could be historically thorny. AOS aims to come home to roost on titles that make more innate sense.

There is power in a name, Colleen Handel explained. She is the AOS’s president. She’s also a biologist. Handel said a much more inclusive naming process that spotlights the unique features and beauty of the birds themselves is needed.

Among the names to be preened from nature guides are Audubon’s shearwater and Audubon’s warbler. Both species were found by renowned bird expert and artist John James Audubon. But his past as a slave owner in the US prior to the Civil War has come under scrutiny. So have his comments about people of African descent. New names for the birds have not yet been chosen. But the AOS has formed a group to decide on the matter.

The AOS said in its statement that the group will include diverse members who are experts in the social sciences, communications, ornithology, and taxonomy. AOS said it also hopes to engage the birdwatching public in the renaming process.

Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Tyler Jamieson Moulton.

Reflect: What factors are important to take into consideration before naming animals and other living things? 

What idea is highlighted throughout the story? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. the importance of birdwatching for scientific research
b. the history of the US prior to the Civil War
c. the popularity of bird watching in the US
d. the significance of using inclusive names when naming a species
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