Dozens of bird names “tarnished by racism and misogyny” have been officially reclassified to avoid glorifying slave owners and Confederate generals.
The American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced Wednesday that it will change the names of certain flying animals after a “very heated and high-profile” debate over the birds’ now controversial namesakes.
According to AOS President Colleen Handel, the group will change bird names that are now proving to be “exclusionary and harmful.”
The AOS formed a committee last year to discuss and determine which bird names need to be changed. To date, more than 100 species needing new nicknames have been identified across the Americas, and the project will continue in 2024.
Pictured: Scott’s Oriole. It is just one of dozens of species being renamed
The black and yellow bird was named after Winfield Scott, a Civil War general known for overseeing the forced relocation of indigenous peoples in 1838 – now known as the Trail of Tears
Among the birds getting a new name is the Audubon’s shearwater.
It is a bird found offshore in the Southeast and was named after one of the greatest bird illustrators of the 19th century, John James Audubon.
But he was also a slave owner who strongly opposed the abolition of slavery.
John James Audubon is described by the National Audubon Society as “a genius, a pioneer, a fabulist, and a man whose actions reflected a dominant white view of the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”
“His contributions to ornithology, art and culture are enormous, but he was a complex and disturbing character who did despicable things even by the standards of his time.”
The avid bird watcher had slaves, wrote critically about emancipation and also believed that skull remains showed that whites were superior to non-whites.
Pictured: McCown’s Longspur
McCown’s Longspur, a Great Plains songbird, was originally named for John P. McCown, a general in the Confederate Army. But in 2020, it was renamed the thick-billed longspur because that name change eliminated “a painful association with slavery and racism,” according to the American Ornithological Society
Although the Audubon’s shearwater has not yet been renamed, its new name will most likely be due to its recognizable rounded wings or its geographical home near the coast.
The oriole, found in the Southwest and Mexico, is also set to get a new name to remove its connection to a U.S. Army general.
The black and yellow bird was named after Winfield Scott, a Civil War general known for overseeing the forced relocation of indigenous peoples in 1838 – now known as the Trail of Tears.
Scott was also known as a hero of the Mexican War, he commanded the army that captured Mexico City in 1847, and he was the last Whig Party candidate to run for U.S. President.
The general was also known as “Old Fuss and Feathers” because of his love of discipline. He served in the military for five decades under 14 different presidents – and by the end of his career, he was one of the country’s most famous and admired soldiers.
McCown’s Longspur, a Great Plains songbird, was originally named for John P. McCown, a general in the Confederate Army.
But in 2020, it was renamed the thick-billed longspur because that name change eliminated “a painful association with slavery and racism,” according to the American Ornithological Society.
McCown served in the border service after the Rio Grande War and enjoyed this time Collecting birds in the area.
He sent them to ornithologists and his keen interest helped scientists establish three new species of birds – one of which was named after him.
The name changes are limited to common English bird names and scientific names written in Latin remain unaffected.
A petition sent to the organization in 2020 said many common bird names were a commemoration of “men” who took part in a colonial, genocidal and highly exploitative period of history.
“These outdated common names are harmful, unnecessary and should be changed in the interest of a more welcoming ornithology.”
AOS President Colleen Handel, Ph.D., said, “There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that remain exclusionary and harmful today.”
Pictured: Audobon’s shearwater
John James Audubon was a slave owner who strongly opposed the abolition of slavery
“We need a much more comprehensive and engaging scientific process that draws attention to the unique characteristics and beauty of the birds themselves.”
“Everyone who loves and cares for birds should have the opportunity to freely enjoy and study them – and birds need our help now more than ever.”
Executive Director and CEO Judith Scarl, Ph.D., said, “As scientists, we work to eliminate bias in science.”
“But there have been historical biases in naming birds and in who a bird might be named in honor of.” Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 19th century and marred by racism and misogyny no longer work for us today , and it’s time to change this process and put the focus on the birds where it belongs.
“I am proud to be part of this new vision and look forward to working with a wide range of experts and bird enthusiasts to create an inclusive naming structure.”