When early naturalists like John James Audubon discovered a new bird, for example, they often named it after a friend or colleague.
“There’s Wilson’s warbler, and Swainson’s warbler, and Kirtland’s warbler,” lists Kenn Kaufman, author of several birding field guides…
Kaufman, like many birders, hadn’t paid much attention to the people behind the bird names.
That is, until last year when he learned more about that last guy on his list.
“John Bachman was a Lutheran minister in South Carolina,” Kaufman says.
“He also fancied himself to be a scientist,” says Kaufman, “and part of what he wrote about was suggesting that whites were just naturally superior to members of other races.” He says Bachman’s theories supported efforts to justify slavery.
“Once you start realizing that kind of thing about these historical characters,” says Kaufman, “the bird names take on a more sinister tone.”
It’s a tone that birding activists are trying to change.