Opinion | Bird species are being renamed! Here are my suggestions!

Birds. They’re getting renamed, and I say, wonderful! Finally, bird names for birds! As long as we are renaming dozens of birds to make them more readily identifiable and ensure no one has to give shout-outs to enslavers or the man responsible for the Trail of Tears when, say, trying to point out an oriole, I have some thoughts to share! Should you listen to me about bird naming? Absolutely not. “I only know two tunes,” Ulysses S. Grant reportedly said. “One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the other isn’t.” That is how I am about birds. If you’re not a pigeon, duck, sparrow or Canada goose, I don’t know what you are. But that has not stopped me from forming opinions. Here, in no particular order, are all my thoughts about bird names and suggestions for improving them:

Robin: I object to this. “Robin” is not a bird name. “Robin” is a person name, and I don’t know how it got mixed in here. It is like having one breed of cat named Dave. Call it Red-Chested Brown Bird.

Cardinal: I know I just objected to “robin” because it was a person name, but “cardinal” is funny. Absolutely wild that somebody looked at this bird and said, “This looks like a specific member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy!” and everyone just went with it. I think we should do more naming of birds for looking like people things. I tried to think of good examples, but all I came up with was that orioles look like members of the Baltimore Orioles, and that is recursive.

Pyrrhuloxia: This is an actual name for a bird, a type of cardinal. To that, I say, “No, it isn’t.” This sequence of letters is what happens when your cat jumps onto the keyboard. This is not the kind of thing anyone should be expected to say out loud, least of all when pointing out a bird. By the time you have successfully pronounced this word, that bird is gone. This could be a prescription drug with an annoying commercial, but what it isn’t is a bird.

Duck: The problem with “duck” is that it’s also a verb. I suggest we rename the bird a Noun-Duck. I recently was trying to throw some rubber ducks at people as prizes, and it turns out there is not a good thing to yell if you are throwing ducks but also want some people to bend their heads and get out of the way. Toward that end, I make this suggestion: In that scenario, you would yell, “Duck! Here comes a Noun-Duck!” or “Verb-Duck! Here comes a Noun-Duck!”

Chicken: As the parent of a child who eats food but also is in the stage of life where you learn a lot of animal noises, I move that we do for the chicken what has already wisely been done for the pig and cow: sever the animal name and the food-made-from-that-animal name from each other. “What are we eating?” “Chicken.” There is no plausible deniability there. We need plausible deniability! Let us break the chicken news on our own time. No, I don’t have a better name in mind, but “chicken” needs to go.

Ostrich: Hear me out on this. So, one of the big problems with the alphabet is that we don’t have good, simple words that start with every letter. I once saw a children’s alphabet book trying, without shame, to claim the word “extinct” for the letter X. I don’t agree, but I see why the book tried. Poor xylophone is exhausted, and X-ray is not much better off. This is a place where birds can help. “Quail” is doing yeoman work for the letter Q, which would otherwise be forced to lean on “queen” and “quilt.” Now, O is doing just fine. O has “owl.” O doesn’t need “ostrich.” But you know what letter doesn’t have any good birds? X. We need a good, distinctive bird that starts with X, and I think it should be the ostrich. Don’t change anything else, just tack on the X. Xostrich. It’s no weirder than “ostrich”! Xostrich. It’s fine. Let’s leave it and keep going.

Rooster: These should be called Crowers, not roosters. Every bird is a rooster. This is like calling only some people sitters or liars, rather than literally all people. (This joke works better out loud.) What sets roosters apart is that they crow. That is what its name should emphasize.

Crow: I realize my decision to capriciously rename the rooster is going to cause some problems for the regular crow. So, I suggest we call crows Cawers. Hmm, no. I don’t like this. I should not have been put in charge of renaming birds. Better idea! Let’s call crows and ravens (I know one is bigger, but I can never remember which one) Corvids of Some Kind. This will save time! “I saw a corvid of some kind, and it gave me $6 in coins in exchange for my sandwich, and I felt too cowed to say anything.” Or Black Birds. That is accurate and descriptive, yet easy to remember.

Blackbirds: Ah, I am beginning to see the difficulty here. And these are not crows I am hearing? These are something different? Well, how many bird names do we need? I will come back to this.

Bluebirds: Now, this is ridiculous. Who let them get away with “bluebird”? Also, there are blue birds that aren’t bluebirds. This name is a disaster.

Blue jay: Now, here is a bird that is blue. And it is not a bluebird, you are saying? If we’re allowed to call blue birds “bluebirds,” but not all blue birds are bluebirds, this is chaos. Look, if people want to keep calling these “blue jays,” they can keep doing so, but “bluebird” should also be acceptable.

I feel that it is possible I am making things worse now.

Flamingo: Pink Bird.

Great blue heron: WHO DID THE PR FOR THIS BIRD? This person should be called in to do the renaming instead of me! This person clearly knew what was going on.

Bald eagle: This bird is not bald. It has feathers on its head. This bird clearly needed the PR help that the great blue heron received in spades. This bird should be called the Eagle With White Feathers on Its Head.

Owl: Seems fine. No notes.

[Christian Cooper: Why the National Audubon Society must change its name]

Starling: These should be called Sequin Birds! Look how nicely turned out they are! They aren’t grackles, apparently.

Vulture: “Not the New York magazine vertical, the bird!”

Grouse: Noun-Grouse.

Quail: Starts with Q, and I love that about it! Confusing to spell, for fans of Dan Quayle, although it would not be the only thing that was confusing to spell for fans of Dan Quayle. I have no quarrel with this bird.

Crane: I love that this bird is also a brand of toilet. I wish more birds had this distinction.

Grackle: I recently realized after years of thinking I saw grackles everywhere that what I thought was a grackle is in fact a starling. I don’t know what a grackle is anymore. Maybe I have never seen a grackle. No naming suggestions for this bird until I can get to the bottom of this.

Goldfinch, raven: Because of the novel and the poem, I guess technically “The Goldfinch” and “The Raven” are literary works, whereas the birds are just “a goldfinch” and “a raven,” respectively. I think this is unfair to the birds.

Parrot: Repeater Bird.

Toucan: Bill Bird.

Albatross: Wedding Guest With an Ominous Tale to Tell Accessory Bird.

Stork: Baby-Reveal Bird.

Peacock: Just go with NBC. Less confusing branding.

Pigeon: So, I have thought about this a lot. The current situation is no good. In urban areas, this is going to be one of the only birds you see, along with sparrows. They need to be more minutely classified, to make seeing them more of a thrill. Here is a little taxonomy I came up with: Surprisingly Indoors Pigeon; Hungry Pigeon; Statue Pigeon; Pigeon Actively Pooping; Pigeon Eating Something Weird. Now, we would need to come up with better names than those. Instead of Pigeon Eating Something Weird, we could say Grosbeak. That’s maybe another bird, but I have never seen one, so perhaps they don’t exist.

Roadrunner: My main objection is that this bird bears no resemblance to the cartoon character of the same name. Look at them. Look at them and tell me that you had any idea the Road Runner was supposed to be a bird.

Sparrow: Sparrows should be renamed Thrilling Sparrow and Fabulous Sparrow and Rare Sparrow. Look, as you go about your day in an urban area, this is going to be your most-seen bird. Imagine the lift you would get from saying, “I saw a rare sparrow today!” or “I saw a thrilling sparrow, and it tried to eat some of my sandwich crumbs.” You would feel like an accomplished birder! Some say, “This is name inflation,” but I say, “Okay!”

Seagull: I’m deliberately leaving seagulls out of this, not because I hate seagulls but because I want to get a lot of emails from readers saying, “Why didn’t you mention seagulls?” Also, for someone who almost never goes to the sea, I feel that I am constantly seeing seagulls around, at riverfronts and lakes and things? They should not be there. Either their geography is bad or they undervalue themselves.

Mockingbird: I have promised to buy my baby one of these many times if she hushed and didn’t say a word, and at this point I am hopelessly indebted to her as far as mockingbirds go. Hush-Money Birds.

Canary: Gold Bird.

Goldfinch: Dang it.

Color-Winged Adjective Bird: Look, I do not bird (verb) very often or very well, but I agree with the birders who say that these birds are never named for a trait that is actually visible to somebody watching a bird fly by. I don’t know what we do about this; I just thought I should mention it.

Dove: We can’t change this. It’s already in a Prince song.

Grebe: Sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to dis a grebe? (That’s it, that’s the only thought I have on grebes.)

Goose: I think this should be renamed Goose, Not the Human Being Who Died in “Top Gun” but Just a Bird — but it might be weird to have a bird whose name was explicitly a spoiler for “Top Gun”? No, maybe not.

Hawk: War Bird.

Falcon: Surely I am not the first to discuss the question of whether the existence of the Millennium Falcon means that falcons exist in the Star Wars universe! But that is wild to think about! That, or falcons in the Star Wars universe aren’t birds. Maybe they just lucked into that combination of letters and a falcon, in the Star Wars universe, is, like, a wrench or something.

Penguin: Tuxedo Bird.

Dodo: Just in case these stop being extinct I want to have a better name waiting for them. How about Cherished, Respected Bird Who Certainly Wasn’t Called a Dodo Up Until About 80 Seconds Ago?

About this story

Illustrations and page design by Michelle Kondrich. Development by Yan Wu. Editing by Autumn Brewington.

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