Dozens of bird names “clouded by racism and misogyny” have been officially reclassified to avoid glorifying slave owners and Confederate generals.
The American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced Wednesday that it will change the names of certain flying animals after a “highly charged and publicized” debate surrounding the now controversial figures after whom the birds are named.
According to AOS President Colleen Handel, the group will change bird names that today appear to be “exclusionary and harmful.”
The AOS set up a committee last year to discuss and determine which bird names should be changed. To date, more than 100 species across America have been identified as needing new names, and the project will continue in 2024.
Pictured: Scott’s Oriole. It is just one of dozens of species that will be renamed
The black and yellow bird is named after Winfield Scott, a Civil War general known for overseeing the forced relocation of indigenous peoples in 1838 – now known as the Trail of Tears.
Among the birds getting a new name is the Audubon shearwater.
It is a bird found off the coast of the Southeast and is named after one of the most established bird illustrators of the 19th century, John James Audubon.
But he was also a slave owner who strongly opposed the abolition of slavery.
John James Audubon is described by the National Audubon Society as “a genius, a pioneer, a fabulist, and a man whose actions reflected a dominant white view of the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”
‘His contributions to ornithology, art and culture are enormous, but he was a complex and disturbing character who did despicable things even by the standards of his time.’
The avid bird watcher owned slaves, wrote critically about emancipation and also believed that skull remains showed that whites were superior to non-whites.
A thick-billed longspur, which underwent a name change in 2020. Originally named after John P. McCown, a general of the Confederate army
The American Ornithological Society removed reference to McCown (pictured) due to what they said was a ‘painful link to slavery and racism’
Although the Audubon shearwater has not yet been renamed, the new name will most likely reflect its recognizable rounded wings or its geographic home near the coastline.
Scott’s oriole, which lives in the Southwest and Mexico, will also be renamed in an effort to remove its link to a U.S. Army general.
The black and yellow bird is named after Winfield Scott, a Civil War general known for overseeing the forced relocation of native peoples in 1838 – now known as the Trail of Tears.
Scott was also known as a hero of the Mexican War, commanding the army that captured Mexico City in 1847, and was the last Whig Party candidate ever to run for U.S. president.
The general was also known as ‘Old Fuss and Feathers’ because of his love of discipline. He served in the military for fifty years, under fourteen different presidents, and by the end of his career he was one of the nation’s most famous and admired soldiers.
McCown’s Longspur, a Great Plains songbird, was originally named for John P. McCown, a Confederate army general.
But in 2020 it was renamed Thick-billed Longspur because the name change erased “a painful link to slavery and racism,” according to the American Ornithological Society.
McCown served in frontier duty along the Rio Grande after the war, which he enjoyed birds gather in the area.
He sent them to ornithologists, and his keen interest helped scientists develop three new bird species – one after which he was named.
The name changes will be limited to the common English names of birds, and scientific names, which are in Latin, will not be affected.
A petition sent to the organization in 2020 said common bird names commemorated “men who participated in a colonial, genocidal and deeply exploitative period in history.”
‘These outdated common names are harmful, unnecessary and should be changed in the interests of more hospitable ornithology.’
AOS President Colleen Handel, Ph.D., said, “There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that remain exclusionary and damaging today.
Pictured: Audobon’s shearwater
John James Audubon was a slave owner who strongly opposed the abolition of slavery
‘We need a much more comprehensive and engaging scientific process that focuses attention on the unique characteristics and beauty of the birds themselves.
‘Anyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely – and birds need our help now more than ever.’
Executive Director and CEO Judith Scarl, Ph.D., said, “As scientists, we work to eliminate bias in science.
‘But there has been historical prejudice about how birds are named, and who might name a bird in their honour. Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 19th century, clouded by racism and misogyny, no longer work for us today, and the time has come for us to transform this process and shift the focus to the birds, where it belongs.
“I am proud to be part of this new vision and look forward to working with a wide range of experts and bird enthusiasts in creating an inclusive naming structure.”