Woke warriors are behind a drive to rename hundreds of bird species because their names are deemed to have links to slavery and colonialism.
Jameson’s Firefinch, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and MacQueen’s Bustard are among those set to have their namesakes replaced by less ‘offensive’ monickers.
The group calling for the changes – US-based Bird Names for Birders – set up a petition insisting ‘harmful colonial’ names of species be banished, arguing that eponymous common names are ‘essentially verbal statues’ and thereby must fall, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Two birds have already had their monickers changed – one being the McCown’s Longspur, named after John McCown, a Confederate general in the civil war who shot a group of larks he saw on a Texas prairie while stationed there.
Jameson’s Firefinch (pictured) is among the bird species whose name is under threat because it’s deemed to have links to slavery and colonialism
Two birds have already have their monickers changed – one being the McCown’s Longspur, named after John McCown, a Confederate general in the civil war who shot a group of larks he saw on a Texas prairie while stationed there. It’s now called a long-tailed duck (pictured)
Among the kills were a pair of pale grey longspurs with a spot of chestnut on their wings and white patches on their tails – markers he’d never seen before in the species, which prompted him to send their remains to an ornithologist friend. The species was then named for McCown, a not unusual practice at the time when it came to recognizing explorers who ‘discovered’ animals they’d never seen before.
The other is Oldsquaw, deemed offensive to indigenous groups. The McCown’s Longspur has been renamed the thick-billed longspur, while Oldsquaw will now be known as a long-tailed duck.
The petition has attracted thousands of signatures, and it’s sparked discussion that the 116-year-old National Audubon Society – the American equivalent of the RSPB – be renamed due to its founder, 18th century ornithologist John James Audubon, being linked to slavery.
It comes after bug experts are getting rid of the name ‘gypsy moth’ because some Roma people consider it to be an ethnic slur.
The Entomological Society of America, which oversees the common names of bugs, is banishing the common name of that critter and the lesser-known gypsy ant. The species will now be referred to as Lymantria dispar until a more common name is decided upon, a process which will take months, according to the society’s president Michelle S. Smith.
The group announced this month that for the first time it changed a common name of an insect because it was offensive. In the past they’ve only reassigned names that weren’t scientifically accurate.
The MacQueen’s Bustard (pictured) bird name was inspired by the British army officer General Thomas MacQueen. He collected animals across India and shot one of the birds, later donating it the Natural History Museum
The Entomological Society of America, which oversees the common names of bugs, is getting rid of the name ‘gypsy moth’ (pictured is one of the insects)
The Oriental rat flea, Asian needle ant and the West Indian cane weevil are also now being scrutinised by the ESA’s Better Common Names Project, which is canvassing public opinion regarding potentially offensive terms.
Birdwatching has long been a notably white-leaning activity, with the American Ornithological Society taking steps to encourage more birder diversity in recent years.
It’s not just America where the debate surrounding bird names is raging. In November, the RSPB invited the Flock Together, a London-based birdwatching collective for people of colour, to take over its Instagram account to draw attention to ‘problematic bird names’.
Species highlighted included the Blyth’s reed warbler, which was named after the 19th century British zoologist Edward Blyth, who worked for most of his life in India as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta.
Species highlighted included the Blyth’s reed warbler (pictured), which was named after the 19th century British zoologist Edward Blyth, who worked for most of his life in India as a curator of zoology at the museum of the Asiatic Society of India in Calcutta
It also flagged the MacQueen’s bustard, the name of which was inspired by the British army officer General Thomas MacQueen. He collected animals across India and shot one of the birds, later donating it the Natural History Museum.
While Flock Together is not campaigning for the names of the birds to be changed, it would like the full history of their eponyms to be explained more thoroughly.
One of its founders, 27-year-old Nadeem Perera, told the Telegraph he would prefer to see nature described not in terms of human history, but ‘in terms of nature’.
‘On a personal level I wouldn’t like to see any human being’s name given to an animal,’ he said.
Bo Beolens, author of The Eponym Dictionary of Birds and a leading authority on the history of eponyms, said there are hundreds of bird names inspired by ‘dubious characters’.
‘I can think of one convicted paedophile, several murderers, a number of Nazis and very prominent American racists let alone those who wilfully massacred other people,’ he said. ‘There are a huge number of colonialists who were not nice people.’
One of these is 19th century explorer James Sligo Jameson, an heir to the vast Jameson Irish Whiskey fortune. Jameson has three birds named after him including the Jameson’s firefinch.
Jameson was part of Henry Morton Stanley’s African expedition up the Congo River in 1888, and reportedly traded six handkerchiefs for a 10-year-old native slave girl just so he could draw her being eaten by cannibals while tied to a tree.
However, Beolens doesn’t believe birds should be renamed, arguing re-writing history is ‘a very dangerous thing’ and suggesting the history behind them is explained instead.