Issues of grammar are rare sightings in the birding world.
But, a technical tick is under consideration for some bird names.
Proposed is removal of the possessive apostrophe from names that include the name of a person, patronymic names. This is being studied by a committee of the American Ornithological Society (AOS).
Cooper’s Hawk would become Cooper Hawk, Harris’s Sparrow Harris Sparrow. And so on — Swainson Thrush and Swainson Hawk, Audubon Oriole and Audubon Warbler. Brewer Blackbird and Barrow Goldeneye.
The proposal was presented to the society in September by Ted Floyd, editor of “Birding,” the magazine of the American Birding Association.
Floyd writes in his proposal that “the possessive form for avian patronymics is a peculiar outlier in modern English.”
He offers these as common examples of names not indicating possession: Washington monument, Salk vaccine, Englemann Spruce, and Guggenheim Museum, among others. He could have included Trump Tower.
We can offer counties: Aitkin (not Aitkin’s), Hennepin, Ramsey, Lincoln, Scott, Sherburne, Carlton, and Carver, among many others.
Floyd’s reasoning is in a 1,684-word document he gave to the committee. A decision is expected this summer. (The idea is one thing, it’s documentation another.)
The AOS, by the way, was formed in 2016 by the merger of the American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society.
Here is a short list of other changes under consideration by the AOS. A couple of them could add a life bird to your list if you have one.
Elevate Harlan's Hawk to species status. Harlan hawk, as I suppose it would become, is a dark version of red-tailed Hawk. The suggestion goes beyond plumage, however. Reasons are more than skin deep.
Change the English name of Saltmarsh Sparrow to Peterson's Sparrow (Peterson Sparrow). This would be the only species to honor our founder, Roger Tory Peterson. It’s about time.
Split White-winged Scoter into two species.
Or, split White-winged Scoter into three species.
Splits, by the way, are favored by birders who keep lists. If you’ve seen the scoter in its present form, for instance, and can be certain you’ve seen the bird in its new form as well, you’ve just been given a life-bird. Or two.
If the split is based on clean geographic lines, this bird here, that bird there, it can be simple. If ranges overlap or if the differences are genetic, not so simple.
In 2006 the blue grouse, a western bird, was split into sooty grouse and dusky grouse. Ranges are not clearly divided.
Lewis and Clark, the explorers, had identified the birds as distinct species. In the early 1900s the birds were lumped as the blue grouse. In 2006, Lewis and Clark again prevailed.
You can tell one of these grouse from the other by various plumage and behavior differences.
FYI, lumped is the opposite of split; bad news for listers because you subtract.
There are 25 other proposals before the AOS board, most involving technical issues with names and placement among avian families.
There is more to birding than meets the eye.