Renaming the Birds of the Americas

NHMLAC's bird expert on the American Ornithological Society's new policy

images of a pelican,  woman holding a parrot, and owl

Published November 1, 2023

NHM's Associate Curator of Ornithology, Dr. Allison Shultz, has contributed her expertise to a new policy adopted by the American Ornithological Society to change the common names of birds species so they are no longer named after people. 

Emerald green wings, a shimmering orange throat—sounds like an 'Allen', right? Like dozens of other birds in the Americas, the Allen's hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) has a common name associated with a human—an eponym.  Cooper's hawks, Anna's hummingbirds, and Cassin's kingbirds are just some of the other common L.A. birds with human-focused names that don't tell us anything about the appearance or lifestyle of these animals.

"The reason that there are so many eponyms in the American West has to do with timing of when it was popular to use eponyms in bird names (the mid-1800s)," says Shultz. "They are mostly named after 'soldier scientists' who traveled with the U.S. Army."

She adds that one of the commitments the American Ornithology Society has made is to involve the public in the renaming process.

"We don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but museums like ours are poised to help facilitate some of these conversations and ideas given that we already interface between public and scientists. So, I imagine that there is the potential for us to play a big role."

Read more in The New York Times and listen to the report on NPR.

More from our experts

Join Shultz and NHM's Emeritus Ornithology Curator Kimball Garrett for a video series that will introduce you to the diverse world of the birds of Los Angeles County, their migration patterns, and habitats, as well as the incredible House Finch.