Dozens of Bird Species Are Shedding Their Offensive Names — Details Here

Anna Garrison - Author

Nov. 2 2023, Published 12:41 p.m. ET

Anna's hummingbird, one of the birds to be renamed
Source: iStock

When new animal species are discovered, one of the most fun parts of being a biologist is getting to name the new species. In the past, people have named creatures after fictional characters, such as the Marianina khaleesi, which is a sea slug named for Emilia Clarke's Game of Thrones character, or Harryplax severus, a crab named after Severus Snape from Harry Potter.

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Sometimes species are named for real people, such as actor Harrison Ford, who had a species of snake named for him in 2023.

In November 2023, the American Ornithological Society announced it planned to change the English names of dozens of bird species named for real people. Here's everything you should know about why they're making the change.

Bullocks Oriole perched on a tree branch.
Source: iStock
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Dozens of American and Canadian birds to be renamed in an effort to diversify the world of birding.

On Nov. 2, 2023, the American Ornithological Society made a new pledge to change the English names (not the scientific names) of dozens of bird species in America and Canada, such as Bullock's Oriole, Anna's Hummingbird, and more.

The Society will also be changing the names of birds that are deemed "offensive or exclusionary," as per NPR.

American Ornithological Society president and research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Colleen Handel, told NPR, "Names have power and power can be for the good or it can be for the bad. We want these names to be powerful in a really good way."

The project will begin in 2023 and include 60 to 70 bird species mostly in the U.S. and Canada, but the Society does plan to reach out to organizations in Latin America to confer about changing names there as well.

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Lewis's Woodpecker at a tree.
Source: iStock

The American Ornithological Society has existed since 1886 and primarily only changed bird names for scientific reasons. That is, until 2000, when the Long-Tailed Duck was renamed after it was brought to society attention that the bird's previous name was offensive to Indigenous peoples.

In 2021, the American Ornithological Society officially amended its naming guidelines specifically to include social justice reasons, Handel told NPR.

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Since then, there have been other movements to rename birds with offensive or exclusive names. The group Bird Names for Birds' primary mission is to make the world of ornithology more inclusive by removing eponymic and honorific bird names.

A Bewick's Wren perched on a branch.
Source: iStock
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On Bird Names for Birds' website, the group explains, "The names that these birds currently have — for example, Bachman’s Sparrow — represent and remember people (mainly white men) who often have objectively horrible pasts and do not uphold the morals and standards the bird community should memorialize."

The overall goal of the 2023 project is to make birding a more inclusive and accepting place for everyone to enjoy.

Birds aren't the only American institution that have begun to change names in an effort to be more inclusive — in 2023, the U.S. Department of Defense also began efforts to rename military bases, streets, and ships originally named for Confederate soldiers. It sounds like the times are changing, and hopefully, for the better.

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