The following are transcripts of the panelist bio we submitted and the introduction we presented at the April Community Congress Event on bird names.
A recording of the event can be found on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/BirdNamesApril2021
*Hyperlinks have been added to this digital version for additional reference.
Panelist Bio, presented by Diversity & Inclusion host
Bird Names for Birds is organized by Jordan Rutter, Gabriel Foley, Alex Holt, and Jess McLaughlin. Jordan, Gabriel, and Alex are here today to represent the core team behind the historical biographies and communications of this grassroots initiative to remove eponymous bird names.
Introduction, presented by Jordan Rutter, Bird Names For Birds Co-founder
Thanks! Bird Names for Birds is a grassroots initiative advocating for the removal of eponymous common bird names and a review of the nomenclatural system to aid in decolonizing birding and ornithology and make it more welcoming and inclusive.
Christian Cooper’s experience in Central Park brought social justice issues to the forefront of the birding community, not because it was a new issue, but because it was one we could no longer ignore or not react to. So Gabriel and I spoke up about bird names in June of 2020, and how eponymous names don’t reflect the welcoming, inclusive community we know birding can be.
As a community, we have an incredible opportunity ahead of us that could truly unite every bird community member. Birds are what link our community together, and it is through their names that we communicate our connection, whether we are ornithologists, birders, or the general public just enjoying birds in their everyday lives.
We have the opportunity to include everyone, no matter what, as we move forward. This is our chance to include Indigenous people and Canadians and Mexicans and Jamaicans and everyone else impacted by these birds we all share. We can include young birders and ornithology students. And we can acknowledge in a concrete way the harm the colonialism that supported ornithology has had, and take one small step towards repairing that harm.
We have the opportunity to help put everyone at the same starting line because someone who has been looking at birds for 80 years will be learning the new name of a bird, the same way and at the same time as a person just discovering the magic of birds. And as we all learn those names, we can share about the threats those birds face or their conservation needs. What if we could inspire the next generation and create a ripple effect of people who care about birds or even have a bird focused career?
We can also actually teach this history. Not erase or ignore or forget about it. We should shine a spotlight on our past and use it to show how we got here and why we’re not going to carry on this way. We do not need airbrushed myths of so-called “Great Men” enshrined in our everyday vocabulary. We need the true histories—both good and bad—laid out for all so that we may learn from them.
The changes must also be all encompassing; every eponymous common name needs replacement. We know that won’t happen quickly—and to be done right, it shouldn’t happen quickly [not literally overnight that is]—but it needs to happen. The unique traits of each species deserve to be celebrated, rather than an eternal memorial to the moment they were first collected.
However, Bird Names for Birds has been adamant about not proposing alternative names or solutions itself. For true success and forward movement, those elements should be of, by, and for the community. Without addressing the system that encouraged and perpetuated eponyms, the literal name changes will just be window dressing.
We can do this though. I know we can. We can all be leaders in a way that I don’t think we ever realized before. There are 149 species with eponymous names in North America, from Canada to Panama. Changing all of them seems like a monumental task, but it appears much smaller when you recall the 1957 Check-list, where the AOU changed 188 common bird names just that year, and birders didn’t have the luxury of an eBird update to help remember them.
I know that this short event is not going to be enough, and that just because it ends doesn’t mean things are fixed. So please keep the conversation going—a conversation that is not just about nomenclatural technicalities, historical biographies, or even potential new names. It’s ultimately about who we are as a community and how much we value diversity and inclusion. Learning and discussing more about that is what you can do for this cause and for the community. So join us in asking questions and listening and learning. There’s the Bird Names For Birds website with info, resources, and new bios regularly posted by Alex and Jess. The four of us and Bird Names are on social media. We’re here with you.
The final thing I’ll say is a heart filled thank you. Thank you to the Diversity and Inclusion committee for hosting this event. Thank you audience. I genuinely appreciate everyone attending and engaging today. You are the bird community and I’m grateful to be among you and the birds.