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Dozens of Birds Are Being Renamed Because of "Offensive Connotations"

The original names for these birds are now considered controversial.

In recent years, the U.S. has seen many name changes intended to remove offensive connotations. In Sept. 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior released new names for nearly 650 geographic features that used the word "squaw," which was deemed offensive. Several professional sports teams, like the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins, have also changed their monikers. With that in mind, it only makes sense that more and more names are being scrutinized. Now, there will be a big shakeup in the bird community, as about 70 birds are being renamed because of offensive connotations. Read on to learn about the changes and why they're happening now.

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The American Ornithological Society will change about 70 bird names.

endemic akikiki bird
Agami Photo Agency / Shutterstock

On Nov. 1, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) released a statement that it would change all English bird names that are currently named after people. The move is intended to eliminate offensive associations. About 70 to 80 birds will be renamed, or about 6 to 7 percent of the total species that occur primarily in the U.S. and Canada, per NPR.

"There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today," AOS President Colleen Handel, PhD, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska, said in the statement.

"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," Judith Scarl, PhD, AOS Executive Director and CEO, added in the release.

The blanket removal of all human names was intended to avoid potentially contentious value judgments about the people whose eponymous birds were renamed, USA Today writes.

In addition to their official English names, birds also have a two-part scientific name that scientists use to communicate across languages. Those names will remain the same throughout the initiative.

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These are some of the names being changed.

Cedar waxwing bird in serviceberry tree eating serviceberries with blue clear sky in the background on a warm spring day.

Examples of some bird names that will be changed include Anna's Hummingbird, Gambel's Quail, Lewis's Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren, and Bullock's Oriole, simply because they were named after people, according to NPR.

The committee also plans to change names considered inappropriate for three birds that aren't named after people: the flesh-footed shearwater, the Eskimo curlew, and the Inca dove, per USA Today.

It's not the first time the society, which is in charge of bird names, has renamed a bird. In 2020, the AOS renamed a prairie songbird to "thick-billed longspur." Its original name honored amateur naturalist and Confederate Army general John P. McCown, per the release.

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The change was triggered by current events.

Close-up of a female American Goldfinch who has the birdfeeder all to herself in the backyard.

On the same day that police officers killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, a white woman in Central Park called the police on a Black birder and claimed he was threatening her. Soon after, a group called Bird Names for Birds wrote to the leadership of the AOS demanding change.

"Current events in 2020 renewed societal emphasis on social justice and have shown that the time to reevaluate is now, and are largely why this initiative formalized," they write on their website. "We are overdue individually, as groups and communities, and as a society to reevaluate our biases, remove barriers of all kinds, and be better."

Birders have mixed feelings about the change.

Bird Chirping In a Tree
Julian Popov/Shutterstock

Like any significant change, there are many opinions.

"I've been seeing some of these birds and using these names every year for the last 60 years," Kenn Kaufman, a prominent author of field guides, told NPR. "It's going to feel like a bother to some people, but I think it's actually an exciting opportunity. It's an exciting opportunity to give these birds names that celebrate them—rather than some person in the past."

"It's a major change in how we think about bird names," Sushma Reddy, secretary of the society and the Breckenridge Chair of Ornithology at the University of Minnesota, told USA Today. "We came to the decision that we really want bird names to be about birds."

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Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
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