Contained in the AOS Suggestion to Change Frequent Fowl Names 


When a particular committee of the American Ornithological Society first met to rethink the widespread names of birds named after individuals, eBird undertaking chief Marshall Iliff got here to a realization: regardless of long-standing apply, naming birds after individuals doesn’t work very properly for birders, or birds. 

“Naming nature after individuals taints it a little bit bit,” Iliff says. “In terms of naming a hen,” he says, it’s “higher to honor one thing in regards to the hen, somewhat than an individual.” 

Prior to now few years, scientists have extensively debated what to do with the names of birds, bugs, fish, vegetation, and even mountains that embrace dated phrases with an offensive historical past, equivalent to gypsy moth (renamed as spongy moth by the Entomological Society of America in 2021). For birds, the good majority of names below dialogue are eponyms—species which have been named after an individual.  

Iliff and 10 different members of the AOS English Fowl Names committee wrestled with the query of eponymous identify adjustments for 9 months, assembly each two weeks—an exhaustive effort that included conducting historic analysis, deliberating extensively differing views, and contemplating totally different processes for change. On the coronary heart of the problem, the committee needed to weigh two sides: is it higher to maintain long-accepted widespread names for the soundness they supply; or would altering eponymous names free the birds from the private pasts of people, in addition to do a greater job of describing the birds? 

In August the committee advisable that AOS change the widespread names of each hen species within the U.S. and Canada with an eponym (learn the committee’s full report). On November 1, the AOS introduced that it’ll observe by on that advice—beginning a course of which will take years, first specializing in 70–80 species discovered primarily within the U.S. and Canada. 

In its advice, the society defined its rationale: “The AOS Council absolutely embraces this chance to take away exclusionary boundaries to participation within the enjoyment of birds and, by the renaming course of, to teach the general public in regards to the birds themselves, their latest inhabitants declines, and their dire want for conservation.” 

Gaining Steam 

The thought of reconsidering long-held hen names has been slowly gaining steam.  

A brown and beige bird with reddish wing patches and black facial marks and a black, conical bill, flying.A brown and beige bird with reddish wing patches and black facial marks and a black, conical bill, flying.
Thick-billed Longspur by Connor Cochrane / Macaulay Library.

In 2019 birders campaigned to alter the widespread identify of the McCown’s Longspur, a grassland hen named for John McCown, a nineteenth century U.S. Military soldier. McCown made the primary scientific assortment of the species in 1851, however he went on to function a basic within the Accomplice Military throughout the Civil Warfare. At first AOS rejected the proposal, citing the worth of sustaining stability in widespread names. However in 2020 the classification committee revised its pointers, including concerns for altering English widespread hen names that create “ongoing hurt.” A brand new model of the proposal was resubmitted and, this time, accepted. The hen was renamed Thick-billed Longspur.

The longspur’s renaming kicked off a bigger dialogue inside the birding neighborhood. A 12 months later, the AOS hosted a digital discussion board referred to as the Neighborhood Congress on Fowl Names to open up dialog amongst ornithologists, birders, and leaders of conservation teams. (Learn our protection of the discussion board.) The overall sentiment amongst individuals who spoke on the discussion board—together with birding luminaries equivalent to best-selling writer Kenn Kaufman, field-guide writer and artist David Allen Sibley, and American Birding Affiliation president Jeff Gordon—favored making a change in widespread hen names. 

“As I’ve realized extra about eponymous hen names during the last 12 months, it’s develop into clear that these names carry numerous baggage,” stated Sibley on the Neighborhood Congress. “The toughest half will most likely be convincing the birding neighborhood that that is definitely worth the hassle… However I feel it’s essential and undoubtedly price doing.” 

Altering Names: Some Vs. All 

The AOS English Fowl Names committee fashioned the 12 months after the Neighborhood Congress, and it thought of a variety of choices for its advice, together with a case-by-case evaluation of solely the widespread names with probably the most hurtful ties to racism, oppression, and violence. However committee members—which included biologists, taxonomists, and birders from eight establishments within the U.S. and Canada—say they felt that would arrange an intractable course of of constructing categorical worth judgments about what individuals stated and the way they lived their lives, usually greater than 100 years in the past.  

Then the committee raised their lens to the extra expansive downside: that eponyms are poor descriptors, extra more likely to convey possession of a hen species by some individual of the previous (e.g., the vexing possessive apostrophe in Kirtland’s Warbler) than transmit details about the hen itself. 

a sandpiper with orange  bill and spots on the breasta sandpiper with orange  bill and spots on the breast
Noticed Sandpiper by Matthew Plante / Macaulay Library.

“Noticed Sandpiper is a very useful identify,” says Iliff. “Crimson-breasted Nuthatch, Pinyon Jay, these names describe one thing that’s actually the essence of the hen.” 

Ultimately, the committee concluded that if it was essential to alter sure eponyms, then the one possible option to proceed was to alter all eponyms.  

As for methods to go about altering all these eponyms, Irene Liu, who additionally served on the English Fowl Names committee, says will probably be important to open up the official naming course of for birds. Liu is a science editor within the Cornell Lab’s Middle for Conservation Media, and he or she’s a scientist who studied the conservation genetics of blackbirds for her PhD. She says the renaming effort wants to succeed in properly past individuals with PhDs and biology levels. 

“Scientists [should be on the committee] for positive, as a result of we want their experience,” she says, including that the hassle additionally must “name on people who find themselves not usually concerned in hen names.” The suggestions to the AOS Council referred to as for brand spanking new standing committee members who signify broad experiences and relationships with birds and their names, equivalent to nonscientist birders, birding guides, naturalists, artists, and poets—in addition to alternatives for public enter, so anyone can counsel and supply suggestions about potential new widespread names. 

Liu says a aim is engagement of “a various public changing into invested in a renaming course of in a means that may encourage pleasure and engagement in birds.” 

A Spectrum of Opinions 

The committee members additionally know that pleasure for an enormous overhaul of widespread names gained’t be common—inside the scientific neighborhood, the birding neighborhood, or the general public at massive.  

Pam Rasmussen is the lead taxonomist for Birds of the World, the Cornell Lab’s on-line compendium of life histories for practically each hen on Earth. She has been a member of the AOS North American Classification Committee for greater than 20 years, the place one in every of her duties has been serving to to resolve common-name adjustments annually as splits and lumps shake up the taxonomic classification of birds.  

Each identify change creates a little bit instability and strife for scientists and birders, Rasmussen says. However with 150-plus adjustments to widespread hen names coming down the pipeline, there can be many sturdy disagreements among the many biologists, birders, and birding-tour guides who depend on the soundness of a standard language for hen names. 

“Lots of people are going to be pondering that it’s an overreaction,” she says. “There are going to be people who find themselves unhappy to see the names that they’ve grown up with, or the names that they’ve realized and used for a few years, be modified.” 

Within the committee’s deliberations, Rasmussen says the group tried “to provide you with a course of that’s going to be finest for the long run—finest for ornithology, finest for ornithologists, and finest for the birds. 

“Whether or not one agrees with all of the points of the choice or not, the perfect factor for ornithology, for ornithologists, and for birds is to be as constructive and non-divisive as potential.” 

And, she notes, all people can have plenty of time to get used to the concept of renaming 70–80 species within the U.S. and Canada with extra descriptive widespread names: “We don’t anticipate something to alter for fairly a while, months and months at the very least.”  

The AOS publishes updates to hen names simply annually in summer season. The society has introduced that the primary naming effort can be a pilot centered on a small variety of species. 

A Broader Base of Assist for Birds 

Liu says that the AOS additionally expects criticism in regards to the final affect of the renaming birds effort. Skeptics have stated that altering a hen’s identify doesn’t actually accomplish something in addressing previous wrongs and exclusionary practices in ornithology.  

Black, white and tan duck with a pink stripe on its bill and a long tail.Black, white and tan duck with a pink stripe on its bill and a long tail.
Lengthy-tailed Duck by Mark R Johnson / Macaulay Library.

“We don’t see the altering of names as enough motion in itself … that’s not the top,” Liu says. “As an alternative, it’s a method to an finish, which is to really bend the curve.” She’s referring to the development of pervasive inhabitants losses for birds throughout North America. A acknowledged aim of the Cornell Lab is galvanizing motion to show the steep declines of birds into a gradual rise.   

There may be precedent for altering a hen’s identify with the goal of aiding its conservation outlook. About 20 years in the past, biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service petitioned the American Ornithologists’ Union (now the AOS) to alter the identify Oldsquaw to its present identify, Lengthy-tailed Duck. The petition famous that conservation efforts for the species would require the assistance of tribal companions in Alaska—however the duck’s identify was offensive to many Indigenous individuals. In 2000, the check-list committee accepted the proposal and formally modified the identify to Lengthy-tailed Duck. 

In the end, the broader eponym-renaming effort is geared towards what birds in decline want most, Liu says: extra individuals who care about them.  

“[We need] a big-tent method to individuals getting concerned in birds and falling in love with them,” she says, “so individuals can care about what occurs to birds, and hopefully be part of their restoration.” 

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