AOS Council actions on English bird names

The evolving process of naming birds

Last week’s North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC) provided the American Ornithological Society (AOS) an opportunity to extend to a broader audience the important conversations the Society has undertaken internally over the past few years regarding diversity and inclusion in ornithology. Many of NAOC’s invited speakers shared their perspectives about how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in ornithology, giving us, and the broader ornithological community, much to consider. We learned from the candid reflections shared by participants, and are grateful to have had a forum in which to openly, honestly, and authentically discuss ways in which we all can improve our profession and make it inclusive, safe, and welcoming, especially for those who have been historically marginalized. 

At the NAOC, which itself was the most diverse and inclusive convening of ornithology students, professionals, and enthusiasts in our history, AOS Council met with the chairs of our North American Classification Committee (NACC) and our Diversity and Inclusion Committee to understand how the many issues, processes, and challenges inherent to our science have imposed limitations on how and when we, as members of the ornithological community, have been able to respond effectively and meaningfully to issues of social justice. As part of this discussion, we further explored the intersection of scientific nomenclature and our values and goals of promoting inclusivity in ornithology and among all who appreciate birds as a part of their lives (see our earlier message here).

We hear you, and stand with you on these issues. We’re now at the stage of synthesizing what we’ve learned from these invaluable discussions, and using these experiences to help inform our nomenclature program. In response to these meetings and conversations, AOS Council passed a Resolution regarding English Bird Names, which you can read here. This fall, Council will establish a new, diverse Advisory Group on English Bird Names to serve the NACC and AOS leadership. Going forward, we will continue to explore ways to expand our procedures to review proposed name changes to incorporate feedback from additional diverse perspectives, including a survey of our various stakeholder groups. This is part of a multi-step process Council first put into motion at the AOS annual meeting in June 2019, when the Society moved forward to update the Guidelines for English Bird Names to address controversial or offensive common names. The open policies and procedures of the NACC and its South American counterpart, the SACC, have been evolving for over a decade, and will continue to do so with your help. Openness is fundamental to the discussion AOS is having, and will continue to have, with our many stakeholders regarding vernacular names. 

The recent Thick-billed Longspur decision reflects the Society’s commitment to evolve with respect to issues of social justice. The changes leading to this decision were important reforms in a longer-term effort, but address only one aspect of a much broader need to increase diversity and inclusion within ornithology. We, at AOS, are interested in effecting more widespread change that leads to broader inclusion of historically and culturally underrepresented or marginalized members of our community. It is encouraging to see that the ornithological community in North America as a whole is embracing this mission and recognizing the need for greater efforts toward inclusion, as evidenced by the massive support for Black Birders Week, Black Lives Matter, and other recent and important social movements that we’ve seen gain momentum in the public sphere.

The Society fully supports our members, the NACC, and our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and we take seriously our shared responsibility to all of our partners and our broader stakeholders.

Mike Webster, President
Colleen Handel, President-Elect
American Ornithological Society


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