Bird’s name sheds Confederate legacy

Named for a Confederate general, McCown’s longspur is now known as the thick-billed longspur.
Credit: Scott Somershoe/USFWS

A bird named for a Confederate general will now be known for the shape of its bill. McCown’s longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) is now called the thick-billed longspur. 

The North American Classification Committee reached the decision last Friday following a groundswell of protests against Confederate monuments across the country. Two years earlier, the American Ornithological Society opted to keep the name, but amid growing concerns about racial justice issues and the success of #BlackBirdersWeek, the committee announced it was “preparing a new, more complete proposal to change the name of McCown’s longspur, one framed against the backdrop of current events.” 

McCown was an amateur ornithologist credited with discovering the species before joining the Confederate army and serving as a major general. 

“McCown wasn’t just a singular anomaly that has now been ‘solved,’ but a single expression of far more deep-rooted issues of colonialism, racism, sexism and other prejudices that have gone unchallenged for too long,” Alex Holt told Science. He’s part of a Bird Names for Birds initiative that has targeted 149 other names that its members believe should be changed. 

Last week, some organizers of #BlackBirdersWeek announced they planned to launch a new nonprofit, BlackAFInSTEM, “to build on the energy and passion of #BlackBirdersWeek,” Science reports.

Read more in Science.