Several Birds are be renamed by the American Ornithological Society (AOS)

The American Ornithological Society is set to change the English names of Bird species that are presently named after people including other names that are considered exclusionary and offensive. The American Ornithological Society (AOS) Council has had a series of forums and meetings in the past years where they discussed and deliberated over eponymous English Bird names. This comes as interesting and crucial news for the international birding community across the world as the names of birds we have known over the years will receive new names and be identified with the new names.

The AOS announced this news on 1st November 2023 and was approved by the AOS Council on 3rd October 2023. The renaming of the species of bird will begin with species in the U.S. and Canada and the American Ornithological Society communicated its plan to actively involve the public in the selection process of the new English Bird names. Birds that will be renamed include Bullock’s oriole, Anna’s Humming Bird, Bewick’s Wren, Wilson’s Warbler, Steller’s Jay, Gambel’s Quail, Cooper’s Hawk and Lewis’s Woodpecker among others.

How do Birds get their names and why is naming of birds important?

The sources of bird names vary and most of the names of bird species are derived from different sources. It is there for very important to name birds because they help birders in the field with identification and to connect with the birds. Imagine you are on a birding tour, one of the most important ways you are able to identify a bird that you see perched on a tree branch is by its name for example if you see a Papyrus Gonolek perched away in a swamp the first identification step will probably be saying its name. After saying the name and confirming it with your binoculars you can then find out the bird family that it belongs to.

Naming birds is also important as it helps in comparison between species. Bird Identification is mostly about comparison especially when in the field, bird names help one in comparing species of birds sighted. In birding the process of comparison between species is called sorting, so while a bird watcher is birding they tend to sort the birds into groups and bird names help a lot during this process. An example of this is you might see two red birds but that might not necessarily mean that they are in the same family or have the same name. Sorting and Bird names will help you identify that yes I saw two bright red song birds but one is a Summer Tanager and the other is a Northern Cardinal.

One might ask how do these birds get their names, who thinks about them and what do they use as a bench mark for naming these birds? Well, over the years there have been different ways in which birds have achieved the names that we currently use to identify them. Language is one of those ways and most birds are named in English Language however other languages have been used to name birds for example the Bird Name “Crane” came from the Dutch language and it’s spelled as “Kraan” in Dutch. Other names are given dependent on a bird’s color for example a Blue Bird, a Green-breasted pitta or the Great Blue Turaco.

A bird’s call is also used to name a bird for example the mocking bird which was named because it makes a mocking like sound when you listen to it. Other ways that birds have been named include birds being named after people, birds being named after the food that they feed on for example the Flycatcher, birds being named after their physical structure for example the Long-tailed tit and birds being named after their geographical locality. The entire process of naming birds is very crucial and appreciated by birding communities across the world.

Way Forward for the renaming of birds by the AOS

The American Ornithological Society has a clear and set process of renaming some of the species of birds. First the project will begin in the year 2024 and it will focus on 70 – 80 species of birds that are primarily resident to the U.S. and Canada. The bird’s scientific names will not be changed and the focus will be solely on the English-language names for the birds.

The AOS will establish a new committee to oversee the designation of all English common names for the bird species, all this will of course be in line with the American Ornithological Society jurisdiction. The Committee is very important for this project as it will involve members from diverse backgrounds and who are experts in the fields of ornithology, communications, taxonomy and social sciences.

The renaming of birds is not something that the AOS has just decided however there has been careful consideration and decision making by the AOS ad hoc English Bird Names Committee in the past years. This was after receiving a public petition in 2020 that was addressed to the AOS to change all English Bird Names that were named after individuals who are identified as symbols of racism and injustice.

The renaming has been further supported by Colleen Handel the society’s president and a research wildlife biologist who in a statement said “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.” It is time to embrace and look forward to the new Bird Names next year and may we continue conserving birds across the world as it is still an ongoing journey!

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