AOS to change names of all birds in their jurisdiction which are currently named after people

Thought this might be of interest to people here! The American Ornithology Society announced this morning that they are committing to changing the names of all birds under their jurisdiction which are currently named after people, as well as other names deemed offensive or exclusionary. The effort will begin in 2024 and focus initially on birds found primarily within the US and Canada.

I’m personally excited for more bird names for birds - I’ve been hopeful for it for a long time but didn’t imagine that any authority would be bold enough to actually attempt the changes.

What are your thoughts? Have any names in mind you would give to local birds if you were in charge? If you’re not a bird person, are there any active movements about social issues around names in your chosen taxa? Personally I am hoping for some creative names based around behaviour or sound, as well as names that don’t refer only to breeding male colouration.


It’s an interesting one for sure and something which I guarantee some will make an unnecessary fuss about, albeit I doubt this will impact the bird scene in the UK and surrounding areas both distribution wise and since there aren’t that many birds there which are directly named after people. Suppose It wouldn’t hurt for other taxa too both for common and scientific names ( I really don’t want another version of Anophthalmus hitleri in future years or any more taxa with someone or others name plastered before " frog" or “goby”).


“More bird names for birds” sums up my feelings quite nicely. These should have never been the names in the first place, so I’m looking forward to the changes.


Since it sounds like this was referring to common names (as the scientific names are subject to a code above the AOU’s paygrade, so to speak), you could start with Leach’s Petrel, Wilson’s Petrel, and so on through Bonelli’s Eagle and Montagu’s Harrier, and end with the little passerines like Cetti’s Warbler and Savi’s Warbler. Maybe not all in the UK per se, but there are quite a few in that general part of the world.

For Hutton’s Vireo, maybe Kinglet Vireo, since this species is notorious for looking almost exactly like a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
But I agree that naming birds after coloration can get pretty boring. For Hammond’s Flycatcher, I’m thinking Fir Flycatcher, since two other members of its genus are named Alder Flycatcher and Willow Flycatcher.
According to Wikipedia, Harris’ Hawk has actually been called Wolf Hawk because of its habit of hunting in packs. So there are precedents for some of these to have names based on behavior or sound.


Some previous discussion of this here:

I’m excited about the change. I’ve often found myself educating people new to birding, and for beginners, the eponymous names are utterly worthless and unhelpful, as they do nothing to contribute to an understanding of the bird’s habitat, ecology, behavior, or morphology. Species names change constantly based on updated information about their systematics and people eventually adopt them. Here, the justification for the changes are different, but its a positive step forward in helping the next generation of birders learn about the subject.

Learning is fun, if one disagrees, this forum is the wrong place for them. Who knows, maybe all of us might pick up a fact or two that we didn’t know about a species along the way.


They may as well take the next step and change bird names that use political divisions. These are just groupings of people. And they’re seldom useful information about the bird.

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This reminded me of something. They’d need to preserve mnemonic ID rules. Curved tail - Coopers, Square tail - Sharp shinned. Maybe the new name should be Confusing Hawk then.

[Edit] Or maybe they could decide that this bird is named after the guild of barrel makers and not an individual.


I agree that changing the name of Cooper’s Hawk won’t make it easier to differentiate, but when learning species for the first time, these eponyms aren’t helpful in effectively describing the species to a newcomer.

Regarding research, only common names are changing, scientific names are staying for now. Also, with birds, the AOU has made adjusting to name changes incredibly easy relative to other taxa. Every year an update of all changes is released at once, including all changes to common names, scientific names, and taxonomic arrangement. Researchers following the AOU treatments make it clear that as of the publication of their paper, they’re following the current conventions.

Why not recognize the contributors? To me, that’s simple, and you stated it at the end of the reply “it should be something that advances the science.” (I’ve worked in a lab where we described multiple new species, and named them after other researchers and benefactors, and I loathe the idea.)

I would strongly recommend against renaming strictly to morphology, and think it would be folly to do so. There are many ways to describe a species that is helpful without resorting to morphology. Take Cattle Egret for instance, great name, the majority of the time you see them hanging out with cows. A name doesn’t have to present a perfect identification, but should be a logical shorthand for referring to a species.


I wonder if the names of the Audubon Society and the Wilson Ornithological Society are also proposed for revision. Why stop at bird names?


Yes, it was proposed for the Audubon Society. Ultimately, the board of directors voted to retain the current name.

See here: Open Letter from the CEO on Audubon’s Name.


I’m also excited about the change. But I’m also worried that it will be so confusing with the new names. And what about all the old field guides…

I am 100% for this and I think it should happen for plants too. It’s a special kind of hubris to name a whole species after an individual human, and i don’t think it’s good practice. Maybe it’s funny for me to support because i don’t support the constant changing of taxonomy, but in terms of common names i think this would be really a good thing.


This is ridiculous. I have nothing against not naming birds after people, but that means we shouldn’t add any new species with people names, not that we should get rid of all the names people already know. As mentioned, the proposed change will make all current field guides obsolete - and what about the 4-letter codes? Those are based on common names. Will they stay the same and not match the official common names, or will birders be forced to memorize an entirely new set?

I do not support this change. It feels like virtue signaling; looks good on paper, but actually adds nothing of value while making everyone’s lives more difficult. Oh well. At this point I’m sure there’s nothing anyone can do about it.


Maybe AOS should be required to propose only revised names that can still use the same 4-letter codes, which are well-established. For example, Scott’s Oriole (SCOR) becomes Scrub Oriole (SCOR). That should slow down the revision process.

This does seem like a feel-good effort that probably won’t have any major impact on anything, other than forcing birders to learn new names while they likely continue to use the old names. But in a generation or so, when we old birders have died off, I’m sure the new names will be established and no one will complain.


What about an approach of keeping the old names in the system as well as the new names and just transitioning over time?

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For iNat purposes, I suspect that will be the case. If I submit a photo of Wilson’s Snipe and use that name, the system will just translate that to whatever the new name will be. Maybe the Wily Snipe ;-)


I’ll be honest, I was a little shocked when I started reading your post XD


I point to laziness instead. There are hundreds of thousands of undescribed insects, so it’s much easier to call a new beetle Charlie brown than Sciencey latinium after a while. I was curating scale insects recently and the genera are like Diaspis > Diaspidis > Pseudodiaspsis > Pseudaspis, etc. It works for them, but I’m not a fan of such derivative names :slightly_smiling_face:

P.S. Saw a Cooper’s hawk driving home today. Maybe the new name can be Dull-shinned hawk?


I think this is a terrible idea. For those of you not familiar with birds, you may not quite realize what changing their common names entails. Birds have had standardized common names for decades, and due to the large amount of amateurs interested in birds, these common names have become the preferred way to refer to these species is nearly all circles. It is not an exaggeration at all to say that these common names are more important than the scientific names to refer to these species, even in scientific circles. So essentially, this is changing the scientific names of hundreds of bird species at once! Yikes! That’s huge implications, spanning both hobby birders and really anyone looking to talk about birds to anyone else. In an era where people are drifting from nature and more and more species are in need of conservation attention, is suddenly making it difficult to refer to many of our planet’s most charismatic and visible species really a good thing?

I also can’t help but feel a little like this is an attempt by the committee to try and feel more inclusive while actually doing very little. Birders and naturalists of color do struggle in many ways, and our solution is to waste a bunch of time making up an issue about bird names and solving it? There are far better ways to spend our time, effort, and money on these issues.

I finally want to question that these names were a barrier to learning about nature and that “bird names” would make them better. Ask yourself - have you really ever heard of a budding birder/naturalist being put off from a species being named after a person? Genuinely curious here, I’ve never heard of a single example besides Scott’s Oriole (and that one feels like a special case). In fact, I have heard stories of people getting into birding after they learn a bird shares their name (MacGillivray and Anna, for example). And, the new names might not be much better. Descriptive names become very unmemorable if there are too many of them - look into Neotropical birds and you’ll get the idea pretty quick. In fact the only reason I ever remember Zeledon’s Antbird is because the name makes it more memorable than yet another “Black-whatevered Antbird”.