[Tweeters] Bird Names for Birds runs into an obstacle

Devon Comstock devonc78 at gmail.com
Thu Apr 1 06:16:18 PDT 2021

My cat refers to himself as the "master of the humans"

The crows in our yard call themselves "obsidian fecal depositers". They
have a pretty good sense of humor

On Thu, Apr 1, 2021, 04:20 Matt Bartels <mattxyz at earthlink.net> wrote:

> As our technological capabilities have advanced, an unexpected obstacle

> has arisen to confound a worthwhile project. In the past year, Bird Names

> For Birds <https://birdnamesforbirds.wordpress.com/> has elevated the

> long discussion over how we name birds. After beginning by calling out the

> problematic behavior of many species’ namesakes, the discussion evolved to

> ask why any species should be named after humans at all?


> One recurring theme in the re-naming debates was that bird names should

> stop centering humans. Before long, the natural next step came to mind:

> Wouldn’t it be better if we could just call birds by the names they call

> themselves and each other? As initiative co-founder Jordan Rudder said at

> the time ’the solution was right there in our name: *Bird* names for

> birds!” The goal moved beyond just removing human names to the bigger

> aspiration to call birds what they want to be called. Until recently, this

> was an idea beyond our capabilities. Then suddenly, technology caught up

> and the seemingly impossible became reality.


> In the past decade, sensor technology has evolved faster than ever.

> Sensors are now increasingly able to record and translate brain activity

> into understandable thoughts, actions and yes, names. It was only a matter

> of time before a group of curious ornithologists adapted this work to ask

> ‘what do birds call themselves and each other?’


> Unfortunately, once results began to come back, problems quickly emerged.

> First, when scientists uncovered self-referential names, they quickly

> realized that birds tend to be a bit dramatic in their self-evaluations:

> "It is simply astounding how many species of raptor refer to themselves as

> essentially ‘the bringer of terror from the skies’ said one researcher.

> She continued, “Essentially all passerines, even sparrows, use some variant

> of ‘most beautiful creature ever’ to refer to themselves. Hummingbirds

> found a way to combine titles of both 'most beautiful and most fierce’ into

> their names…” What became apparent was that self-referential names would

> never do the trick of distinguishing between species, because only a few

> titles were ever in use. Of the over 10,000 species worldwide, scientists

> projected that only 50-100 names were in use. Birds, it turns out, are not

> particularly creative in their chosen names.


> The situation became even worse, believe it or not, when scientists looked

> at birds’ names for each other. The hope for more variety was realized, but

> another problem emerged. As one researcher put it “I never expected so much

> profanity….We just couldn’t begin to publish the phrases that corvids use

> for other passerines; shorebirds use remarkably colorful names to disparage

> the feeding abilities of sparrows, and tubenoses uniformly use horrible

> language to refer to less agile flyers. There was widespread disdain for

> ducks and their sexual exploits that led to vulgar names that, again, could

> never be printed in a field guide.” Human insults turn out to be some of

> the most mild of the animal kingdom.


> In the end, Bird Names for Birds project is considering a name change.

> While less eloquent, the project may soon be known as “Slightly Less

> Problematic Names for Birds" or maybe the simple “Better Names for Birds.”



> Matt Bartels

> Seattle, WA



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