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American Ornithological Society to rename bird species, including those found in Belize

Posted: Sunday, December 3, 2023. 4:44 pm CST.

By Horace Palacio: In a landmark move set to begin in 2024, the American Ornithological Society (AOS) has announced an initiative to rename several bird species with English names found in the U.S. and Canada. This decision, as detailed in a recent NewsNation article, reflects the AOS’s commitment to addressing historical inaccuracies and biases in the naming process, a step towards making ornithology more inclusive and representative.

The AOS’s initiative stems from a recognition of the exclusionary and often harmful associations of some bird names. “There is power in a name, and some English bird names have associations with the past that continue to be exclusionary and harmful today,” explained AOS President Colleen Handel. The society plans to change all English bird names, regardless of the historical figure’s ethical background, particularly those with derogatory or culturally unsuitable references.

Approximately 80 bird species in the U.S. and Canada are slated for renaming. This process is not only about correcting past wrongs but also about fostering a more inclusive environment for bird enthusiasts and researchers, as well as drawing attention to the declining bird populations.

Among the species to be renamed are several found in Texas, originally named by figures such as John James Audubon, who had controversial histories including links to slavery and racism. These species include Baird’s Sandpiper, Bewick’s Wren, and Harris’s Hawk, all of which have a significant presence in various Texan habitats.

However, the impact of this initiative reaches beyond the borders of the United States. Notably, Cooper’s Hawk, a species found across North and Central America, including in Belize, is also on the list for renaming. This species’ current name honors William Cooper, a New York-based scientist with notable contributions but whose legacy, like many others, is now under reconsideration in light of modern values.

The presence of these birds in countries like Belize highlights the international relevance of the AOS’s initiative. Renaming species like Cooper’s Hawk not only resonates within the U.S. and Canada but also in regions where these birds migrate and are studied, reflecting a global shift towards more culturally sensitive and inclusive practices in science and conservation.

The renaming effort by the AOS is a significant step in recognizing the interconnectedness of our ecological and cultural landscapes. As these birds traverse boundaries, so too does the need for a more inclusive and representative approach to naming and studying them. This initiative is a reminder that conservation and scientific research are not just about understanding the natural world, but also about respecting and honoring the diverse cultures that engage with it.

 

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