You know a bird by its feathers, not by its discoverer

You know a bird by its feathers, not by its discoverer

“You can only become truly, world-famous if someone names the color fuchsia after you,” Hermann Wenkers sang triumphantly when he received the honor. Fuchsia Hermann Vinkers is no exception.

It is general practice that the discoverer of the species – in the case of fuchsia, the breeder – is also allowed to name it. But in the United States, the American Ornithological Society is now working to abolish the practice of retroactive honoring. The Birdwatchers’ Association concluded that many of the people named had a colonial or racist past. In all, the association includes 152 names of North American birds and 111 names of South American birds.

rover chart

In the Netherlands, birds are usually named after their color (robin), habitat (sedge warbler), or sound (chiffschaf). This varies in North and South America. There, Western explorers introduced animals and plants to the scientific world, often naming them after themselves, supporters, or friends.

Let’s take for example Pacman bird. The Pine Banners, as they are called in Dutch, are named after John Bachmann: a nature-loving priest, but also a slave owner and ardent abolitionist opponent.

Ornithologist Jules Pierre Ferro has many birds to his name, but the one most remembered for the horrific grave robber. In 1830, he stole the body of a newly buried Tswana warrior from present-day Botswana to study.

In more colors

The historical facts are not new, but resistance to controversial “aliases,” as these honorary titles are called, is growing. In addition, the birdwatching residents themselves are becoming hotter. Bird watchers can no longer ignore the colonial and racist history of names, according to the four founders of Bird Names for Birds. Bird names should refer to the bird and not its discoverer. In 2020, concerned bird watchers began a petition to publicly address “potentially offensive, oppressive or simply irrelevant implications in English species names”.

Then the American Ornithological Society decided to form a committee on naming birds. Last Wednesday they fully adopted this committee’s advice: all aliases will disappear. The association wants to move away from the standard discussion of how bad the birds of the same name behave, and therefore decided to change all nicknames to names that “pay attention to the unique characteristics and beauty of the birds themselves.”


A new committee will take over this process in the coming years and will also consider other exclusive names. the Eskimo curlew (The Eskimo Curlew) will likely change its name, because the name is insulting to the Inuit. Also from Meat gel water The name will continue to change. Because not all human skin resembles the salmon-pink legs of the Australian shearling. With this, the American Society hopes that every bird watcher will be able to enjoy birds without hindrance. “Birds need our help, now more than ever.”

In the Netherlands, the Flemish jay was only renamed to the more correct “jay”, because there was nothing Flemish about the jay. For now, the Pallas’s Woodwarb and Temminck’s Sandpiper remain out of harm’s way.

Read also:

Tips to warn birds from windows (which can be deadly).

Many birds fly every year to crash into the windows of a home or office. The Society for the Protection of Birds advises that some creativity can save many feathered victims. And no, popular window stickers are not the best solution.

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