Why dozens of birds are being renamed in the U.S. and Canada

The American Ornithological Society, a birding group, pledged Wednesday to change the English names of all bird species in the U.S. and Canada currently named after people.

The organization said it was trying to move away from names "deemed offensive and exclusionary." The Thick-billed Longspur, for example, used to be named after Confederate Army General John P. McCown, which was perceived as a painful link to slavery and racism.

"There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today," American Ornithological Society President Colleen Handel said. "We need a much more inclusive and engaging scientific process that focuses attention on the unique features and beauty of the birds themselves."

The American Ornithological Society is going to start the initiative next year. The organization plans to set up a naming committee and seek public input for new names for up to 80 bird species in the U.S. and Canada. The birds being renamed also have scientific names, but those will not be changed under the initiative.

"As scientists, we work to eliminate bias in science. But there has been historic bias in how birds are named, and who might have a bird named in their honor," American Ornithological Society Executive Director and CEO Judith Scarl said. "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."

The move is part of an effort to diversify birding and make it more welcoming to people of all races and backgrounds. The American Ornithological Society hopes more people will focus on protecting birds, too.

"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.

North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970, a 2019 report found. Ten types of birds were taken off the endangered species list in October because they are extinct, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

"To reverse these alarming bird population declines, we need as many people as possible to get excited about birds and unite to protect them," Scarl said.

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