Winds of Change

… are blowing through our bird names.  For more than 10 years the possibility of changing English-language bird names referring to a person (‘personal’ or ‘eponymous’ names) has been on the table.  There are no longer any ‘correct’ or standard names, so the names used are a matter for the user  – whether an  organisation or government agency or field guide   –  or just someone talking or writing about birds.  Birdlife Australia, as one name-using  organisation, has taken an in-principle decision to move away from personal names.  How this is to be done  will be explained in due course by Birdlife Australia. As it happens, a similar decision has just been taken for North America by the American Ornithological Society (AOS).  That’s OK.  Each generation can decide on its own bird names.


Here are a few more points. The initiative does not affect the many scientific names that refer to a person.  For the time being at least, names referring to a place that bears a personal name will not be affected (e.g. Lord Howe Woodhen, Tasmanian Native-hen).  Both the organisations mentioned see their projects as directed to species that occur mainly in the respective geographic areas they cover.   So in the case of Australia Baillon’s Crake might not be due for attention. That raises the question how the many oceanic seabirds with personal names will be dealt with. Perhaps that will be a matter for global lists as they adopt their own policies in reaction to this development.


Both organisations intend to take a consultative approach and look for appropriate descriptive names.  Experience of that task suggests that this will not be all that simple, particularly if features descriptive of the male only are to be avoided.   Albert’s Lyrebird will be an early candidate for the chopping block.  Not only does Prince Albert not deserve to have a bird named for him but the ‘lyre’ refers to the male only, of a different species.




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