Nov 27, 2023 - News

Columbus Audubon considers name change

Illustration of a bird with a "hello" name tag sticker in its beak.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Columbus Audubon leadership is considering a name change to distance the organization from its namesake, a slave owner and anti-abolitionist.

Why it matters: Bird conservation groups across the U.S. named after artist and ornithologist John James Audubon are facing pressure to address his controversial past — another example of a national reckoning over race and history.

  • Columbus' chapter, with about 3,000 members, is one of the nation's largest.

The big picture: Several Audubon chapters have announced name changes over the past couple of years, including Chicago and Detroit, which are now "Bird Alliance" chapters.

  • The National Audubon Society's board of directors voted to keep its name in March, though its CEO acknowledged Audubon's "treatment of Black and Indigenous people must be reckoned with."

Meanwhile, the American Ornithological Society will begin renaming all English-language bird species named after people starting next year, to avoid "exclusionary and harmful" associations and provide more descriptive names.

Context: Historically, white European males were mainly credited with "discovering" North American birds despite Indigenous people encountering and naming them for centuries.

  • The ornithologists typically named the creatures after their friends or mentors — including enslavers, white supremacists and an Indigenous grave robber.

What they're saying: "Those names perpetuate a legacy of injustice and discrimination that's really contrary to our mission," Kori Sedmak, president of Columbus Audubon's board of trustees, tells Axios.

  • For some community members, these painful reminders of colonialism, slavery and racism may become barriers to birding, she says.

What's next: Columbus Audubon will gather input from its membership before any decisions are made about its name, likely sometime next year, says Sedmak.

  • It will also encourage public participation in the nationwide bird renaming project.

Of note: Representatives of Scioto Audubon Metro Park, just south of downtown, and the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, housed inside the park, did not respond to emails last week asking if they were also considering name changes.

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