Dozens of Birds to be Renamed in an Effort to Shun Racism and Make Science More Diverse

By: Georgia | Last updated: Nov 07, 2023

The American Ornithological Society has announced an initiative to rebrand dozens of bird species across the United States and Canada. 

This move, aimed at reflecting the birds’ traits and habitats, intends to replace names of human origin with more descriptive and inclusive alternatives, engaging a wider audience in bird-watching and ornithology.

Birds to Shed Human Names

In a significant shift from tradition, the society will eliminate human-related common names for birds within its scope. 

An image of a bird floating on the water. The bird’s feathers are a mix of brown and white

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The forthcoming process, yet to be finalized, will invite public participation in renaming 70 to 80 species, enhancing the birding experience by making it more accessible and relatable to all.

Fostering Inclusivity in Bird-watching

The society’s approach is to create a more inclusive bird-watching environment. 

An image featuring a pair of black binoculars and an open bird guidebook displaying various illustrations of owls

Source: Diane Helentjaris/Unsplash

By renaming species, they aim to welcome people from diverse backgrounds into ornithology, promoting an interest in nature that is unmarred by the historical baggage often carried by human names.

Supporting Diverse Ornithological Interests

The decision to rechristen bird species has been met with approval from the scientific community. 

A vibrant yellow bird perched on a leafy branch against a clear blue sky

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ornithologists are expressing positive outlooks on the change, highlighting the shift towards naming birds in a manner that focuses on their characteristics rather than human attributes.

A New Direction for Bird Names

The society envisions new names that are evocative of each bird’s distinct features, such as color or habitat, making identification intuitive. 

A blue-footed booby standing confidently on a brown, rocky terrain

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This approach is intended to help novice bird-watchers and enthusiasts alike connect more deeply with the natural world.

Comprehensive Renaming Strategy

The society’s comprehensive strategy includes removing all honorific human names from birds to avoid controversial associations with historical figures. 

A captivating image of a long-tailed duck gracefully floating on water

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This move is part of a broader effort to encourage a more equitable and objective study of ornithology.


Creative Renaming Opportunities

Kenn Kaufman, a noted naturalist and author, has voiced support for the imaginative opportunities this renaming initiative presents. 

A close-up image of Kenn Kaufman, a renowned naturalist and author

Source: Kenn Kaufman/X

The focus will be on creating names that vividly describe birds’ appearances, behaviors, or habitats.


Encouraging Broad Participation

The goal of the renaming initiative extends beyond nomenclature. 

A red-headed woodpecker with contrasting black and white feathers perched on a circular bird feeder.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is about cultivating a culture where nature and science are seen as domains open to everyone, regardless of background, fostering a more inclusive community of nature enthusiasts.


Uncomfortable Histories Prompt Change

The push for renaming began in academic settings and has since extended to the wider ornithological community. 

A person outdoors, observing through binoculars, focused on watching birds or wildlife in a lush forest environment

Source: Kayla Farmer/Unsplash

This stems from a growing discomfort with the practice of naming living creatures after historical figures, some of whom have contentious legacies.


Historical Proposals Influencing Change

Recent events and societal shifts have influenced the society’s stance on bird names. 

Yellow bird with black markings perched on a brown branch, surrounded by green pine needles

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Initial resistance has given way to a consensus that the names of bird species should not serve as inadvertent memorials to divisive historical figures.


Engaging the Public in Renaming

Starting with a pilot project in 2024, the society will invite public suggestions for new bird names. 

A bird perched calmly on a twisted branch

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This process is expected to be gradual and thoughtful, with numerous opportunities for community input.


Reflecting Modern Values in Science

The renaming initiative reflects a broader trend in science to reevaluate species names, ensuring alignment with modern principles of diversity and inclusivity.

A focused birdwatcher using binoculars to observe birds closely in their natural habitat

Source: Forest Simon/Unsplash

It signifies the ongoing evolution of ornithology to remain in step with societal advancements.