Posts Tagged ‘Outreach’

I have been thinking and writing about changing the names of birds for a little while now. Particularly, I am talking about the birds that have been named after people. In fact, an article I wrote on this subject set off a series of interactions between me and a publisher that led me to withdraw my support and contributions to several magazines that I had been writing for for years. If you want to read about that story, it starts here.

I think that the names of birds that have been named after people should be changed for a few reasons. One is that these names ignore the names used by indigenous peoples for these birds. Another is that the people for whom birds are named represent very little diversity. And an additional reason is that the people who have had birds named after them include some distinctly shady characters (racists, frauds, etc.). Allow to elaborate.

Bachman's Sparrow Songs and Calls - Larkwire
Adult Bachman’s Sparrow

One reason why the current bird names are a problem is that the idea of a (generally) European individual coming across a bird, figuring it is a new species to the scientific world, and naming it according to that European’s preference ignores the indigenous recognition of that species. Indigenous peoples have recognized, and named, the birds around them for thousands of years, but these names have been largely ignored when establishing modern bird names. In the scientific community, there are general rules for naming species and one of those rules is that the name first applied to a species is the one that gets used. What this means is that if one person in England and one person in Germany (as representative examples) both separately identify and name the same species, the name that is officially adopted is the one used by whoever named it first. So using this standard, names applied earlier by indigenous peoples around the world should have priority over names applied later by European explorers. The fact that they have not been is a product of the very Eurocentric nature of the science and age of exploration in the 1700s and 1800s, and it should be changed. All peoples from around the world should be represented and included in the choosing of species names. No one group should have control of this process.

Another reason why current bird names are a problem is that most of the people who birds have been named after, and that are recognized today, have been straight white men. This is largely a product of the fact that most of the people doing the naming of birds that are recognized today have also been straight white men. If you look in a bird book today, you will see few-to-no birds named after women, few-to-no birds named after people of color, and few-to-no birds named after members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is racist and sexist and should be changed. If people are going to be recognized with the honor of having a bird bear their name, there is no reason why those people should all come from a small and narrow subset of humanity. There have been many women, many people of color, and many members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have contributed to to our understanding of birds and who could be honored by naming a bird after them.

Featured Birds: Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles
A male Bullock’s Oriole.

A third reason why current bird names are a problem is that some of the people whom birds have been named after don’t really deserve the honor. Some people were slave owners such as John Bachman (Bachman’s Sparrow) who also wrote of the inherent inferiority of black people. Some people were dramatically unpatriotic such as John Porter McCowan (McCowan’s Longspur) who was a confederate general who fought to destroy the United States of America. Some people desecrated the sacred sites of indigenous peoples such as John Kirk Townsend (Townsend’s Warbler and Townsend’s Solitaire) who dug up the graves of Native American men, women, and children and sent their heads to various collectors and pseudoscientists. And some people were con artists such as William Bullock (Bullock’s Oriole) who owned and curated a natural history museum that included specimens intentionally faked to attract publicity. These are people whom I do not think are worthy of being honored by having a bird named after them, but because they had money, friends, and connections we now frequently speak their names (I watched a lovely Bullock’s Oriole just a couple of days ago).

Some things are starting to change. For example, the name of the McCowan’s Longspur has been changed to the Thick-billed Longspur in light if the racist and unpatriotic actions of the confederate general. But far more needs to change in order to make the culture and community of birding as open and inclusive as it should be. A current movement is forming with the idea of changing the name of all birds that are named after people to names that are more descriptive of their natural history. This idea points out that the name Bendire’s Thrasher does not provide any useful information about the bird itself; however, Blue Grosbeak does provide some useful information (namely, that it is blue). Changing the names of all birds that are currently named after people also side-steps the problem of deciding who is and who is not worthy of having a bird named after them. Society’s morals are constantly changing, and so attempting to reinterpret past figures according to modern standards is, and will continue to be, difficult. Instead, we can make the names far more lasting and useful if we simply change the currently used names, and end the practice of naming species after people.

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I recently learned about a scholarship intended to increase diversity in the birding community. It is called the Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship, and it is run by an organization called Amplify the Future. This scholarship was founded in 2020 and seeks to amplify the successes of Black Birders and Latinx Birders by raising funds for annual scholarships and creating networks of support. This year, the American Bird Conservancy is partnering with Amplify the Future to match all donations to this scholarship up to $10,000!

Amplify The Future | LinkedIn

The website provides this information about the scholarship: “Through the Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship, we the committee seek to increase the number of Black Birders and Latinx Birders studying in STEM. Scholarship awards range from a minimum of $2,500 to a maximum of $5,000, depending on funding for the current year. The application period for the 2021-2022 school year will open February 2021. The deadline for application submissions is June 18, 2021.”

The website also has more information on eligibility, how to apply, etc.

So, go check out this great opportunity, pass it along to others who might be interested, and help support diversity in the birding community!

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

Become a follower of this blog!

View and subscribe to my YouTube channel – A Birding Naturalist

Follow me on Instagram – abirdingnaturalist

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Today is Earth Day!

A Look at the Earth from Space: NASA Raises Awareness about the SDGs
Image Credit: NASA

This year, I have been finding myself reading and listening to some voices I greatly value. Some are voices that I have listened to for decades and others are voices that are newer to me, but each offers deep wisdom about our earth, our universe, and the roles each of us do and might play. They offer some “cosmic perspective” to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, and remind us that “a land ethic changes the role of Home sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it” to quote Aldo Leopold. This earth is the only home we, as a species, have ever known, and Earth Day is a fitting time to reflect on the implications of that fact.

Below are links to two videos that move and inspire me, and I hope they do the same for you. Happy Earth Day.

Earthrise by Amanda Gorman

Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan

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Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) are a species that is growing more and more numerous, and this is a problem.

Mute Swans are the “classic” swan from stories and art. They are large and showy and beautiful and these traits are exactly why they have been introduced to North America. Birds were brought from Europe in the 1800s and released in parks, gardens, etc. as ornamental additions (New York was the original release area). These birds have since reproduced and spread across the continent as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Florida, and as far as west as California.

Adult male Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). Source: USFWS digital library.

They are becoming problematic for several reasons. One is that they are quite aggressive, and will chase and bite humans if that human trespasses on the swan’s territory. Another is that they consume quite a bit of food. They are big birds reaching up to 25 to 30 pounds, and that means they eat about eight pounds of aquatic vegetation every day. That is food which is then not available to native birds, and it disrupts habitat for native birds, mammals, fish, and other species. And a third reason is that the swans are directly aggressive to other species of bird driving them off nests, breaking eggs, and killing the chicks of other species, and so displacing those other species from areas where they would otherwise live. With habitats becoming ever smaller and more fragmented, this can mean the native species can be left with no where to go.

These problems have all contributed to Mute Swans being added to California’s restricted species list in 2008. This listing means the birds cannot be imported, transported, or possessed in the state without a permit. This has not completely prevented the swans from beginning to become established in California. Small populations can be found in Petaluma and the Suisun Marsh. I suggest that removing this species while the population is still small is the best course of action. There is every reason to suspect that the population will grow, and as it does so, the problems listed above will become more and more apparent. However, control will become more and more difficult.

One interesting thing about Mute Swans in North America is that they do not migrate very much. There are certainly some, relatively short, seasonal movements that occur in some parts of the continent, but not much. Certainly nothing compared to the long migrations that Mute Swans in Europe engage in. The evolution of this behavior in a novel environment illustrates how different geographic regions can cause a species to adapt and change. This behavioral evolution could then lead to the evolution of a new species, if it persists and becomes dramatic enough.

So, what can you do to help native birds and habitats, and prevent Mute Swans from taking over? If you spot a Mute Swan in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Invasive Species Program by sending an email to: invasives@wildlife.ca.gov or calling 886-440-9530. Together, we can act as citizen scientists to gather data that tracks where these birds are and how they move around. This data will help us all make the best and most informed decisions we can about this species.

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

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A few years ago, I wrote a post called Lizards, Ticks, and Lyme. It explained how Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) have a blood protein that kills the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, and this is one of the major explanations of why Lyme Disease is so much less common in the Western USA.

Well, new research (see references at the end) has added a really intriguing facet to the Tick-Lizard-Lyme story. This new research focuses on the southeastern USA. The southeast is another area where Lyme Disease rates are very low. But why? The southeastern USA has populations of Black-legged Ticks (members of the genus: Ixodes), which are the ticks that can carry Lyme Disease. The region has the mammal species such as deer and mice that act as reservoirs for Lyme Disease. People in the southwest get bitten by ticks, just like other parts of the country. So why is Lye Disease so much more common in the northeastern USA than the southeastern?

Well, once again, it looks like we can thank lizards. Skinks are a group of smooth-scaled rather lovely looking lizards and they are one of the preferred hosts for ticks in the southeastern USA. In the northeastern USA mice are the much more common host to ticks. And this sets up a roadblock for Lyme Disease in the southeast because skinks have been shown to be really bad transmitters of Lyme Disease. Mice, on the other hand, have been shown to be very effective transmitters of Lyme Disease.

A Southeastern Five-lined Skink (Photo credit: Animal Spot)

It is not yet known if the stinks blood contains proteins that actually kill the Lyme Disease-causing bacteria, or it there is something else about skinks that reduces transmission rates, but this difference in host does help to explain why Lyme Disease rates are so much lower in the southeastern USA as compared to the northeastern USA.

So, fence lizards and skinks both contribute to reducing Lyme Disease in the areas where these lizards are found. Pretty fascinating stuff! I am very much looking forward to learning more about this subject as more research is done. Do other lizard species also reduce the occurrences of Lyme Disease? Does skink blood kill the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease? What is the blood protein that the fence lizards produce that kills the bacteria, and can it be synthesized? So many questions!

I hope you follow this story, and are as intrigued by it as I am. I will certainly write more as more is discovered.

Here are some sources for further reading: a Science News article, and an SF Gate article.

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What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 6.

In part 5, I shared a letter that I wrote to PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), and senior manager of BVM. That letter was part of a set of back-and-fourth emails between me and BVM employees. Here is PERSON 3’s final response to me which was sent on 9/15/2020.

Dear Aaron,

You are entitled to disagree with our company’s policy as you clearly already had.We have never been a platform to discuss race or other social issues and that will not change. 

If you are telling me that you are not racist or sexist I will believe you. The way in which you expressed your views could have been more clear though as I was not the only one who read them as I did.  

As far as contributing writers, BVM does not pay any contributing writers. Most pay us. Many want to contribute because they know how much notoriety they get from our magazines or they just really enjoy writing about a particular topic. If you took issue with this then 4 years ago would have been the more appropriate time to do so.

In the spirit of understanding it is probably best and most accurate to say that neither one of us wants either discrimination or mertitless recognition based off of race, gender, etc and leave it at that. 

Have a great week

PERSON 3 name and title

So, that is that.

After reading this response, and thinking about it for a bit, I decided that I could no longer contribute to BVM publications.

I continue to stand by everything I wrote in my article and subsequent letters. And I think that the responses from PERSON 3 display a thinking that I find very distasteful. The fact that PERSON 3 represents and speaks for BVM is why I have stopped contributing to their publications, and why I am publishing this whole exchange here.

I leave it to a candid world, and you dear reader. If you made it through all six parts of this story, you have my thanks. What conclusions do you draw from these writings? Was I out of line? Was PERSON 3? What do you think about all of this? If anyone wants more details and names of the individuals involved in this exchange, comment below and we can discuss further.

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What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 5.

After reading the letter in part 4 of this series from PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), I wrote a response to him on 9/15/2020. Here is my letter to PERSON 3.

Dear PERSON 3,

In reading your response to my letter from the company perspective, it seems I need to clarify the point of that letter. My hope was that Best Version Media (BVM) would reconsider the blanket policy of never discussing racial or social issues. That is still my hope.

In response to your personal comments, I have a few personal comments of my own.

Reading your responses, personal though you stated them to be, I was surprised at how unprofessional you were. In my article and letter, I do not attack BVM, you, or any other individual. I did not call BVM names, nor did I do so to you or any other individual. I would expect that you would extend the same basic courtesies to me.

You claim that I advocate that birds should be named for people solely based on skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. This is simply false. Nowhere in either my article or letter do such statements appear. I do advocate for greater diversity and representation in bird names and for greater inclusion in the birding community. I disagree with you that calling for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation can be classified as racist or sexist.

I have been a regular contributor to four different BVM publications over the past four years with no compensation. Given this, I was surprised by your responses. It seems a poor business decision, and again very unprofessional, to attack your own contributors.

I will end by saying that I hope your responses to my article and letter do not represent the “best version” of individuals that your company claims to promote.


Aaron N.K. Haiman

PERSON 3’s second letter to me will appear in part 6.

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What follows is a series of interactions between myself and a publishing company called Best Version Media (BVM) that I found to be unsettling and distasteful. It has resulted in me withdrawing my contributions to BVM publications. This story gets a little long, so I will be posting it in several parts. Here is part 4.

In part 3, I wrote a letter of concern to BVM hoping that they rethink their stance that they simply will not publish materials that discuss race or racism.

I received a response from PERSON 3 (name not included for sensitivity reasons), an individual very high in the management of BVM. This is not the individual that I originally addressed my letter of concern to. Here is PERSON 3’s response to me on 9/11/2020.

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for reaching out. I am more than happy to address your article and letter of concerns from the company side of things. BVM is not a news source nor are we a platform for people’s personal social convictions. There are other places for that and we are not it. We do not cover the topic of race in any way either. It is not part of our company’s business model to “discuss” race in our magazines or online.

On the personal side, I find both your article and letter disturbing. Your article advocates that a bird be named after someone purely due to how they identify their sex or what race they are? No mention of education on the topic or identifying species or anything.  These are extreme sexist and racist views to have in 2020. To promote that anyone should have or not have honorable mention purely due to the shade of skin color they have is disgustingly racist and insulting to those of any race. 

To promote a view that someone should also be elevated this way purely because of gender (or gender identification) is equally wrong and insulting to women. Furthermore, to imply that others should not have a bird named after them for no other reason than there are too many “white men” with birds named after them is appalling.

I encourage you to see people for the human dignity they all have and not the way they identify as or their shade of skin color. Respect everyone, love everyone and see everyone as a person not a demographic. Only then will everyone be treated equal. Please learn to treat everyone equal.

Thank you     

PERSON 3 name and title

My response to this letter will appear in part 5.

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This video is from a recent visit my family and I made to Staten Island in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Staten Island is a 9,200 acre reserve owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy specifically to provide foraging and roosting habitat for Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) and also waterfowl, shorebirds, and many other species.

If you enjoy the videos I am creating, two ways to stay informed would be to subscribe to the channel and/or follow this blog.

Sandhill Cranes (Photo courtesy of the USFWS – John Magera)

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With the opening of 2021, I am excited to share the news that I am starting a new project. In addition to continuing this blog, I am launching an “A Birding Naturalist” YouTube channel!

This blog has been a really rewarding experience to write over the last eight years, and I want to continue to grow this blog and the spread and sharing of knowledge that is its core. One way that I have decided to do that is to branch out to a new platform and medium. My hope is that the YouTube channel and video format will add to the ABridingNaturalist community and provide an additional way to learn about birds, birding, and the natural world in general.

You can check out the channel here. So far, I have a small number of videos posted, but more will be coming!

I hope you enjoy the material I have, and will, post and that you subscribe to the channel and join me on this new adventure.

Special thanks to my amazing wife who is doing all the video editing and production, without whom, this project would never have gotten off the ground!

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