The president of the American Ornithological Society told BirdWatching that the organization’s leadership supports the recent push to change the names of birds that are named after people and that it is now forming an ad hoc committee to look into the issue to tackle the coming months.
“W.e aI’m for take any action that would make ÖRnithology and bird watching more diverse and comprehensive, ”says Mike Webster, the current AOS President. (He is also the director of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Robert G. Engel Professor of Ornithology at Cornell.) “This includes changing excluding or harmful bird names if necessary. I think the question is how do you do this in a thoughtful way that keeps stability? of Bird names because that stability is important. B.However, we are absolutely in favor of changing names to increase diversity and Admission.”
In the summer of 2020, bird watchers Jordan Rutter and Gabriel Foley, along with Jessica McLaughlin and Alex Holt, launched a campaign called Bird Names for Birds when a nationwide movement to fight racial injustice caught on. They published a petition calling for common names of bird species in North America to be named after names that reflect something unique about each species.
The argument is put simply that the name Kirtland’s Warbler, for example, says nothing about the bird and yet retains some sort of living memorial to a person who may or may not have had a history with the bird. However, a name like Jack Pine Warbler, which is sometimes used for this species, does give people information about the bird – namely, that it relies on Jack Pine Woodlands.
Over the summer, the “bird names for birds” petition received thousands of signatures. Last August, Rutter and Foley published a comment in the Washington Post and the subject was covered extensively in the bird watching media. Within a few weeks, the AOS’s North American Classification Committee (NACC) re-examined the case of the Longspur species named after a Confederate soldier and renamed it Dick-beaked Longspur.
But it was only one species. No fewer than 149 other birds from Alaska to Panama (the jurisdiction of the NACC) bear the names of humans – from Ross’s Goose to Scott’s Oriole.
Over the next several months, the AOS held listening sessions with various groups on the topic of these names of the same name, and in mid-April their Diversity and Inclusion Committee held a live online video meeting called the Community Congress on English Bird Names to discuss the topic. (It can be viewed on YouTube.) Leaders from the National Audubon Society, eBird, Birds Canada, the Bird Banding Laboratory, the American Birding Association, and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, and field leaders authors David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman attended. All advocated adopting more bird-centered common names; Some suggested that a process should begin soon, and some pointed out possible hiccups that could occur.
However, the meeting ended with no indication of what, if anything, might happen next.
Webster says he’s forming an ad hoc committee of about a dozen people this week to take the next steps.
“We educate ourselves a diverse committee that collects and discusses information that people have about attitudes to common bird names of the same name or otherwise harmful, ”he explains,“ and then sUse this information for the second time to make recommendations for proactive steps tSociety can take direction have a process that changes these malicious names if necessary.”
He hopes to “have recommendations by late fall or by the end of this calendar year. Some want us to move faster, but we want to work with it thoughtfully, make changes, and develop a solid process. “
During the community convention in mid-April, several speakers said that all names of the same name should be changed. Webster says that is a question the new committee should answer. “That’s exactly the kind of information this committee is supposed to collect,” he explains. “We heard some great views and contributions during the convention. And now this committee will reach out to many bird watching groups and ornithologists to try and get tThe diversity of opinion out there and better understanding where our community is.
“Do you think that all names have the same name should be changed, or just some of them? We don’t have this information right now, but we hope to have it soon.“And while he said he couldn’t say who will be on the committee just yet, he noted,” I hope we have it in about a week and can say who it is, but we’re trying to have a very diverse range Committee on age, ethnicity, origin, gender so that we can really get different points of view.”
Webster adds that the method recommended by the committee for addressing names of the same name should be broad enough that AOS can use it in the future to address other problematic names. He notes that the NACC list includes French common names for Canada and that there are Spanish and Portuguese Common Names in Latin America ”, so The hope is to develop a robust one pProcess so we can deal with problematic names that come up in the future, not necessarily just those that are problematic today. “
During the convention, Kaufman explained why he believes all names of the same name must go and advocated the kind of committee that Webster is setting up.
“If we try to analyze all these historical figures and say, OK, good, Cassin was good, but Townsend was bad, and so on, it could go on forever,” says Kaufman. “And I know a few people have suggested doing this gradually, but I think instead of nibbling on the problem, I would want a talented and diverse committee that tackles all of these eponyms at once. You could find alternatives, spend a lot of time getting involved from the larger community, and then set a long lead time to a date when we flip the switch and take on all of these new, better names. ”
Webster added, “We look forward to driving this forward and making progress. I think it’s going to be a good thing for ornithology and a good thing for birding, and again, any steps the AOS can take to make birding and ornithology more inclusive and broadly represented are all the better. And we look forward to it. ”
You can find a more in-depth article on the subject in the July / August issue of BirdWatching magazine.
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