Bird Names Being Changed Over ‘Racist’ Ties Sparks Backlash

Bird Names Being Changed Over ‘Racist’ Ties Sparks Backlash

Social media users are pushing back after the American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced it would rename dozens of North American birds named for people.


The AOS said on Wednesday that it would rename all bird species in its jurisdiction that were named for people regardless of the name’s history. The announcement came after birdwatchers have debated bird names for years, specifically ones that commemorate historical figures who committed acts of racism. The decision comes as numerous organizations reexamine landmarks, statues and other objects named for controversial figures.

“There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today,” AOS President Colleen Handel said in a statement. “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.”

AOS Executive Director and CEO Judith Scarl added that some bird names are clouded by racism and misogyny and don’t benefit the organization.

A female Wilson’s warbler. The Wilson’s warbler is among dozens of birds that will be renamed by the American Ornithology Society.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Newsweek reached out to the AOS by email for comment.

The announcement has elicited pushback on social media as some people question the AOS’ decision. Others went as far as calling the AOS woke. The word, a colloquialism that has emerged in recent years, is defined as “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues [especially issues of racial and social justice],” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

“Here’s to the lovely Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis), named after the famed American explorer Meriwether Lewis of Virginia. The bird is to be renamed by the woke-infested American Ornithological Society (AOS),” @AlbertoMiguelF5 posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday.

“Woke leftists are demanding every bird in America get renamed to erase any links to racist history. We expose this ridiculous attempt to revise history,” @StuDoesAmerica posted on X on Thursday.

Birds to be renamed include the Wilson’s warbler, Wilson’s snipe and dozens of others. Three birds not named for people also will get new names: the flesh-footed shearwater, the Eskimo curlew and the Inca dove.

“The word flesh may imply that all—or at least ‘normal’—skin resembles that of white people,” an AOS document read.

The AOS went on to explain that Eskimo is a derogatory term among Inuit and Yupik people and that the Inca dove is an erroneous name coming from “profound confusion of the geographic locations of the historic Inca and Aztec cultures.”

It is not the first effort by the AOS to change bird names associated with racism and slavery. In 2020, the AOS renamed a songbird found in the Great Plains to the thick-billed longspur. The bird’s name previously honored John P. McCown, an amateur naturalist and general who fought with the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to the AOS.

New names will focus on describing the bird rather than honoring historical figures.

“Eponyms are poor names when it comes to describing a bird. Names that describe the bird (e.g., Spotted Sandpiper, Red-breasted Nuthatch), its habitat (e.g., Marsh Wren, Pinyon Jay), its range (e.g. Eastern Wood-Pewee, Mexican Chickadee), or something else about the species (e.g., Fish Crow, Northern Mockingbird) convey more information,” the AOS wrote in a report.

The scientific, or Latin, names of birds will not be changed as part of the initiative. The change also does not impact species named for places that were named for people, such as the American Crow or the Carolina Chickadee.