Posted on November 26, 2023

These Pa. Birds Will Be Renamed as Watchers Reckon With Racism, Inclusion

Tanisha Thomas, Spotlight PA, November 24, 2023

Several birds that live in and flutter around Pennsylvania could have new names in the near future.

The American Ornithological Society announced Nov. 1 that it will rename North American birds to dissociate the animals from namesakes with problematic pasts. Several birds, such as the Townsend’s warbler and solitaire, are named after racists.

Peter Saenger, an ornithologist with Muhlenberg College in Allentown, told PA Local the project could affect over a dozen birds that breed in, migrate to, or visit Pennsylvania.

The American Ornithological Society expects to assess about 80 names next year. Instead of judging on a case-by-case basis, the AOS said it will review all birds with human names. It plans to convene a committee that will solicit input from both the public and experts from various scientific fields.

The AOS has maintained a list of common, English bird names in some form since 1886 and is the scientific organization responsible for registering and standardizing English bird names across the Americas.

The organization’s president, Colleen Handel, said the group hopes the renaming effort will invite more people to bird-watching and spotlight the animals rather than the humans who peep at them.

“We need a much more inclusive and engaging scientific process that focuses attention on the unique features and beauty of the birds themselves. Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely — and birds need our help now more than ever,” Handel said in a statement.

Judith Scarl, CEO and executive director of the society, said the project could help reverse longstanding biases among birders.

“Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 1800s, clouded by racism and misogyny, don’t work for us today, and the time has come for us to transform this process and redirect the focus to the birds, where it belongs,” Scarl said.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, told PA Local that finalizing the names could take years. He said birds’ appearances or sounds could influence the new monikers.


Bonner traced the effort to make birding more inclusive to the racial justice movement of 2020, when bird-watchers were among the Americans nationwide who protested police violence and reckoned with institutional racism. {snip}


The list below, provided by Saenger, notes some of the birds that breed in, migrate to, or visit Pennsylvania that could be affected by the renaming effort: