Posted on November 1, 2023

These American Birds and Dozens More Will Be Renamed, to Remove Human Monikers

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR, November 1, 2023

Get ready to say goodbye to a lot of familiar bird names, like Anna’s Hummingbird, Gambel’s Quail, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, Bullock’s Oriole, and more.

That’s because the American Ornithological Society has vowed to change the English names of all bird species currently named after people, along with any other bird names deemed offensive or exclusionary.

“Names have power and power can be for the good or it can be for the bad,” says Colleen Handel, the society’s president and a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska. “We want these names to be powerful in a really good way.”

The move comes as part of a broader effort to diversify birding and make it more welcoming to people of all races and backgrounds.

“We’ve come to understand that there are certain names that have offensive or derogatory connotations that cause pain to people, and that it is important to change those, to remove those as barriers to their participation in the world of birds,” she says.

The project will begin next year and initially focus on 70 to 80 bird species that occur primarily in the United States and Canada. That’s about 6 or 7 percent of the total species in this geographic region.

The society has promised to engage the public, and says that birds’ scientific names won’t be changed as part of this initiative.

The effort represents a huge change for the birding community, and those involved expect a certain amount of opposition from long-time birders.


The American Ornithological Society and its predecessor organization have maintained a list of the official English-language names for birds in North America since 1886. Occasionally, bird names have been changed, most often for scientific reasons.

One notable exception came in 2000, however, when the society renamed a bird that’s now called the Long-tailed Duck because of concerns that its previous name was derogatory to Native Americans.


That really started to change in 2020, when police officers killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. {snip}

Less than a month later, a group called Bird Names for Birds wrote to the leadership of the society, pointing out the potential problems that come with eponymous honors and demanding change.

They noted that a 2019 proposal to rename a small prairie bird that had previously been named for Confederate General John P. McCown had been rejected.

In 2021, the society officially gave that bird the name “Thick-billed Longspur,” after amending its naming guidelines to explicitly consider social justice reasons, says Handel.

“Because of those associations with racism and slavery, it was decided that this name needed to be changed,” she explains.

Renaming a bird here and there was one thing. But the idea of renaming a whole slew of birds to remove names associated with historical figures? That took more mulling over.


A diverse group of ten experts met to consider it, says Erica Nol, a biologist at Trent University in Canada who co-chaired this ad hoc committee.


She says people have pointed out to her that the birds don’t care what their names are.

“Names are important for humans. And this is absolutely a human-driven exercise,” she says. “They’re important for the people who watch birds and the communities who may or may not feel very welcome, if all the birds are named after these old European ornithologists.”