In a bold move towards preserving the integrity of ornithology and embracing a vision of inclusivity, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) is making waves by redefining the common names of bird species found in the United States and Canada. This groundbreaking decision seeks to shed light on the evolving landscape of conservation while ensuring that the focus remains squarely on our fine-feathered friends.

Gone are the days when our beloved avian creatures were saddled with human-centric monikers. The AOS is committed to replacing these antiquated labels with names that paint vivid pictures of each bird’s traits, behaviors, and habitats. By doing so, they are creating a welcoming haven for bird enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds who share a profound passion for the feathered wonders of the skies.

This monumental decision didn’t materialize out of thin air; it was born from years of controversy surrounding bird names that were linked to individuals with dubious histories. It’s no secret that some of these names carried uncomfortable baggage, but the AOS is stepping up to the plate, determined to redefine our avian lexicon for a brighter, more inclusive future.

The project, which will see the renaming of 70 to 80 bird species in the U.S. and Canada, aims to make bird-watching and ornithology accessible to all. This move has garnered enthusiastic support from ornithologists and scientists who are eager to shift the focus from historical figures to the birds themselves.

One notable advocate for this change is Corina Newsome, a prominent ornithologist who played a pivotal role in launching Black Birders Week in May 2020. Newsome enthusiastically embraces this evolution, highlighting how species names reflecting the birds’ characteristics make them easier to remember. She praises this shift towards a more equitable approach to understanding the natural world, ensuring that no one feels left out of the avian appreciation party.

The AOS is well aware that this renaming project isn’t merely about correcting past wrongs. It’s also about ensuring that bird names are primarily about the birds, free from any controversial associations. By taking this approach, the society aims to prevent contentious value judgments regarding historical figures linked to these names.

The renaming process will prioritize descriptive names that offer insights into the birds’ appearances, behaviors, songs, or habitats. This strategic shift aims to strengthen the bond between bird names and the birds themselves, making it easier for enthusiasts to identify and appreciate these magnificent creatures.

Furthermore, species names that are considered derogatory or culturally inappropriate are slated for change. Among these are the flesh-footed shearwater, Eskimo curlew, and Inca dove. These changes represent a firm commitment to inclusivity and respect, aligning with the broader goal of making ornithology and bird-watching accessible to all.

The decision to rename bird species didn’t happen overnight. In 2018, a proposal to rename McKown’s longspur was rejected, leaving many birders disappointed. However, the winds of change began to blow in 2020 with nationwide protests against racism and a renewed focus on addressing social injustices. In response, the AOS reconsidered its stance and embraced a rewritten proposal, renaming the longspur as the thick-billed longspur, marking a turning point in the society’s evolution.

Kenn Kaufman, a renowned naturalist and author, initially had reservations about supporting the renaming of bird species. His concerns centered around the stability and communication within the bird-watching community. However, witnessing the vocal outcry for change, particularly from younger ornithologists and bird conservationists, Kaufman became convinced that renaming was essential. He recognized that some bird names effectively served as verbal Confederate monuments, creating barriers to inclusivity.

To facilitate this renaming process, the AOS plans to launch a pilot project in 2024, starting with an initial group of 70-80 birds in the U.S. and Canada. This project will engage experts in taxonomy, social science, and communication, ensuring a balanced and deliberative approach. The society also intends to involve the public in suggesting new names, fostering enthusiasm for bird conservation and ornithology.

In conclusion, the American Ornithological Society’s commitment to renaming bird species represents a momentous shift toward inclusivity, respect, and a deeper connection with the natural world. By embracing descriptive names and distancing themselves from human associations, the AOS seeks to create a more welcoming environment for all bird enthusiasts. This transformative endeavor reflects a growing awareness of the importance of acknowledging past injustices while promoting a brighter and more inclusive future for ornithology and bird-watching.