Birds won't be named after humans anymore in an effort to eliminate racist links

A number of North American bird species are currently named after historically racist figures

A Scott's oriole
The Scott's oriole is among the birds that will have their name changed
(Image credit: Stock Photo via Getty Images)

North American bird species that are named after humans are being renamed in an effort to eliminate ties to racist figures, the American Ornithological Society announced Wednesday. 

In a statement, the Ornithological Society, which is responsible for the naming of bird species across the continent, said it "commits to changing all English-language names of birds within its geographic jurisdiction that are named directly after people." Toward that end, the society said, it's "establishing a new committee to oversee the assignment of all English common names for species."

Dozens of birds across North America are currently named for humans, and many of those people are historical figures with ties to racism and slavery. "There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today," Ornithological Society President Colleen Handel said. Anywhere from 70 to 80 bird species will be renamed. 

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The push to strip human names from bird species began in 2020 with the thick-billed longspur. At the time, the bird was called the McCown's longspur, named "after an individual with strong ties to the Confederacy and who is perceived today by many as a symbol of slavery and racism," the Ornithological Society said. The effort expanded after the society considered a public petition urging a change from racially charged names. Deciding which names fit that criteria proved fraught, so the society decided to scrap all human-linked names.

That means an end to the Audubon's shearwater, a species named after John James Audubon, a famous ornithologist who "also enslaved people and held white supremacist views," his namesake Audubon Society notes. Also on the way out is the Scott's oriole, named for General Winfield Scott, who "oversaw the forced relocation of Indigenous peoples in 1838 that eventually became the Trail of Tears," The New York Times reported.

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