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Thick-billed Longspur

Taxonomic changes aren’t the only way to change bird names

Thick-billed Longspur. Photo By Bo Crees.

You may have seen some of the op-eds out over the summer, but we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the news.  In August, birders from the amateur to the professional helped support the American Ornithologists Union (AOU) to take the next steps towards fulfilling the Bird Names for Birds movement by pushing to change the McCown’s Longspur to the Thick-billed Longspur. This change is important for Montana whose eastern grasslands are a home for many nesting pairs each summer. 

Recognizing that changing bird names can help change the stage of inequality for all people, the North American Classification and Nomenclature Committee of the AOU unanimously adopted the new, more physically descriptive, name. Originally named for the collector of the first specimen, John McCown, whose contributions to ornithology are undeniable, the new name helps separate the enjoyment, classification, and conservation of a threatened grassland bird from the painful past desired by a Confederate regime. 

Besides, having a name that signals at least something about the birds we work so hard to identify would be helpful. Especially for the little brown and gray jobbies. Give us some hint, something about their shape, appearance, behavior, range, or habitat to help a birder out.

Though you won’t see these changes in the most current printed format of the Montana Bird Checklist, last edited in 2018, you will see the changes elsewhere and here on out. Now you just have to be patient for spring for the Thick-billed longspur to return.

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