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The American Ornithological Society (AOS) has announced it is renaming the McCown’s Longspur, a native species in the Southwest and northern Plains that was named after Confederate Gen. John Porter McCown. The bird will now be called the thick-billed longspur.

This is the first time the 137-year-old society has altered a bird’s name with a Confederate past. Ornithologists have been trying to rid the longspur of its Confederate identity since 2018.

In addition to defending slavery in the Confederate Army, McCown also fought in the Seminole Wars, leading violent campaigns against Native American tribes. McCown was also an amateur birder who came upon the longspur during one of his hunting trips on the prairie.

After an incident this year involving a white woman calling the police on a Black birder in Central Park, the AOS and other environmental organizations are reexamining their past and current practices that may foster racism, either implicitly or explicitly.

In July, the AOS stated that uses of “harmful” English names “unfairly demand tolerance from already marginalized people, creating an unnecessary barrier to the field of ornithology with clear downstream effects felt at multiple levels of our ornithological community.”

While the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club have confronted the racist histories of their founders, a global reckoning is occurring regarding how names and symbols themselves can offend and alienate groups of people.

Names of sports teams, food items, music groups, and celestial bodies have been changed in an effort to root out traces of colonialism and racism that were conveyed through their original names.

Read more about the removal of Confederate symbols and statues around the country and our coverage of the fight for racial justice.

Sign this petition to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge for John Lewis!

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