Colorado Sun: Some birds are getting a new name

UC biologist talks about proposed changes in naming conventions to North American birds

The Colorado Sun talked to University of Cincinnati biologist Lucinda Lawson about a proposal by the Ornithological Society of America to rename dozens of North American birds named for people, some of whom had ties to slavery or colonialism.

For example, the Audubon shearwater was named for John J. Audubon, an artist, naturalist and slaveholder. The Bachman's sparrow was named for the Rev. John Bachman, a Lutheran pastor who likewise owned slaves in the 1800s.

Assistant professor Lucinda P. Lawson spoke about their research at Rieveschl Hall. UC/Joseph Fuqua II

Biologist Lucinda Lawson teaches in UC's College of Arts and Sciences. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II

“When it was brought to our attention that some English bird names were viewed as harmful or exclusionary, including some named after people who were perceived as symbols of racism and colonialism, the group worked hard to reconcile its commitment to uphold stability in taxonomy and names while also addressing concerns of historical biases and social injustices,” the group said.

Lawson told the Sun that as the movement grew to address birds named for slaveholders, Confederate generals and other infamous figures, a broader scientific purpose emerged. Birds named for people are not as useful as descriptive names, she said.

“You know, you can come up with really beautiful and informative names. They don’t have to be boring,” she told the Sun.

Lawson also was a guest on WXVU's Cincinnati Edition where she told host Lucy May that the public will have a say.

“We hope to avoid Birdy McBirdface,” Lawson joked in a reference to a 2016 British contest in which the public suggested naming a research ship Boaty McBoatface. (The British named the ship after legendary naturalist David Attenborough instead.)

The group plans to rename dozens of birds found in North America, regardless of its namesake's background.

“The general public may have a beautiful way of thinking about it. And social scientists can bring in ideas about the cultural heritage,” Lawson said.

Lawson was joined on the program by Corina Newsome, a conservation scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.

Lawson said at least 13 local birds found around Cincinnati will be renamed.

This includes the Wilson's snipe, Wilson's phalarope and Wilson's warbler, named for Alexander Wilson; the Townsend's warbler, named for American naturalist John Kirk Townsend and the Cooper's hawk named for New York scientist William Cooper.

Read the Colorado Sun story.

Featured image at top: A Kirtland's warbler named for Ohio naturalist Jared Kirtland is among the birds that will be renamed under a proposal by the Ornithological Society of America. Photo/Michael Miller

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