The American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced on Nov. 1 that the organization plans to give new English names to 70-80 birds species in 2024
Select birds native to the United States and Canada are set to get new English names.
On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) announced that "an effort to address past wrongs and engage far more people in the enjoyment, protection, and study of birds, it will change all English bird names currently named after people within its geographic jurisdiction."
AOS plans to start renaming American and Canadian birds in 2024, focusing on 70-80 bird species with names tied to humans or "deemed offensive and exclusionary," per the society's release.
Additionally, the organization announced it will adjust how it names new bird species moving forward by involving a diverse naming committee. The AOS also plans to actively involve "the public in the process of selecting new English bird names." This, the AOS hopes, will diversify birding and provide better descriptors for the birds themselves.
"There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today," Colleen Handel, Ph.D., AOS president and wildlife biologist, explained in a press release. "We need a much more inclusive and engaging scientific process that focuses attention on the unique features and beauty of the birds themselves."
The AOS has changed the English names of birds before. In 2020, a prairie songbird named after John P. McCown, a naturalist and Confederate Army general, was renamed the thick-billed longspur.
"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 added.
"Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 1800s, clouded by racism and misogyny, don't work for us today," AOS' executive director, Judith Scarl, Ph.D., stated in the organization's release. "The time has come for us to transform this process and redirect the focus to the birds, where it belongs."
Folks like Christian Cooper are also working to make birding more accessible and diverse. Cooper has been an active member of Central Park's birding community for years. But his interest in birds drew national attention in May 2020 after an unrelated White woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on him and falsely accused him of threatening her while he was birdwatching in the part of Central Park known as The Ramble.
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The incident and its resulting headlines thrust Cooper into the spotlight, and the Black birder has used the access to a broader audience to advocate for safer green spaces for all. In 2023, Cooper helped create the National Geographic series Extraordinary Birder, which he also hosts. The show takes viewers to meet stunning birds around the world and teaches viewers how to protect them.
"Wild birds connect you to the natural world, and they remind you that we are part of this whole process too," Cooper told PEOPLE in June about why he thinks everyone should try birdwatching.
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