Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Circuit And PC Birding

There isn’t much to report from this morning’s grey affair. A shimmy around Conder Green on my way to business in Lancaster produced the usual wildfowl fayre of 90 Teal, 30 Wigeon, 6 Shelduck, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Goldeneye, 2 Little Grebe, 2 Canada Goose, 2 Goosander, 2 Cormorant and 1 Little Egret.

Lapwings and Oystercatchers were on the spot for breeding around the margins with 30 or so Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank and 2 Snipe. 

Common Snipe

As compensation for today’s meagre entry here’s an item from the Washington Post about Political Correctness reaching bird watching. Let me just check - no, today isn’t April 1st. 

"Bird watching has long been a popular and seemingly harmless weekend activity in Sweden. Its innocence, however, came to an abrupt end when many of the country's bird lovers were suddenly confronted with allegations of racism. 

For centuries, it has now been revealed, the Swedish had given birds some names that now could be considered offensive to certain groups. One species, for instance, was called "gypsy bird," whereas another was named "negro." The insult "caffer," which was used by white against blacks in South Africa, also resembled a Swedish bird species called "kaffer." There were other offensive bird names in Sweden, such as "Hottentot" — apparently inspired by the name of the language of an indigenous southwest African tribe called Khoikhoi, yet also a derogatory term for that tribe. 

Despite the prominence of bird watching among Swedes, the existence of these names and others like them had sparked little outrage and publicity until recently. When Sweden's Ornithological Society completed its first-ever global list of all 10,709 Swedish bird names two weeks ago, the organization also announced some awkward name changes. 

In the process of categorizing the names, staffers had raised concerns over some that had a potentially offensive nature. As a result, several of them have now been changed: "negro" bird, for instance, will now be called "black" bird. "When working on the list, it became obvious that some older names no longer were appropriate," Anders Wirdheim, Communications Officer at the Swedish Ornithological Society told The Washington Post. 

Wirdheim does not think that the bird names should be used to draw broader conclusions about the Swedish society. "Out of thousands of names, there were only 10 which could be understood as condescending or even racist," he said. Nevertheless, Sweden's Ornithological Society was surprised by how serious some have taken the racism allegations. "We had expected a few responses, but certainly not the flood of comments that followed the publication," Wirdheim said. 

"Here in Sweden, an overwhelming majority is for the changes we have implemented. However, the news has reached far beyond our borders and most outraged reactions have come from abroad." 


Naturally it’s only a matter of time before the European Union directs the UK to rename some offensively titled British birds. 

For a start our UK field guides are full of Tits not to mention a Shag, which makes it very embarrassing to discuss these species with non-UK birders. There’s the very impolite Dusky Warbler or Dusky Thrush, an abusive Sooty Shearwater or Sooty Tern and more than enough thank you of birds called “Yellow”, “Brown” or “White”. Thankfully the Martians haven’t arrived yet so for now we can forget all those “Green” birds. 

Great Tit

Yellow Wagtail

Then there are those species which have to be reminded they are of diminished stature by the use of the word “Little” or “Least”, or of less than ideal physical proportions, or with a disability, and  therefore labelled with a derogatory prefix - “Long-eared”, “Short-eared”, “Short-toed” or ”Long-toed” come to mind. And in these days of equality should we really refer to some bird species as “Common”, implying they are of a lowly class and that similar but less numerous species are superior? 

Short-toed Lark

Common Gull

And to precede so many of our British bird names with the adjective “Lesser” implies that the species is not of equal importance to its “Greater” relative when it clearly is. Be honest. Which would you rather see? A Greater White-fronted Goose or a Lesser White-fronted Goose? Me too. 

Lesser White-fronted Goose - CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Swans are very beautiful and graceful creatures. I suggest to readers that in 2015 it is no longer acceptable to begin the naming of our commonest British swan with the archaic term “Mute”. Surely “Inability To Speak Swan” would be more acceptable”? 

Mute Swan

Although not strictly speaking a British bird, the Bufflehead finds itself on the British List by virtue only of its rare transatlantic appearances here in the UK. Is that any reason to call an American cousin a “Bufflehead”? It is a word clearly designed to offend. 

Yes, it is definitely time to bring British Birds into the modern world of equality, diversity and tolerance. 

Suggestions for the New British List of Birds on a postcard please to Presidency of The European Union, Strasbourg, France.

Linking today to Anni's Birds.


Linda said...

Beautiful photos, Phil, and a very informative post as well. I think sometimes we do use words that may be considered offensive to people of various cultures. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Lew Newman said...

Love it!

TexWisGirl said...

love the snipe. :) i do have to admit it took quite some time to get used to your birds 'tits'. still can't quite get myself to comment on them much!

eileeninmd said...

Hi Phil, great post! I hope the Common Snipe is not feeling too upset about being called Common.. Great shot! Happy Birding!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Too funny! This post ought to be in a magazine or newspaper somewhere. Thanks for the smiles and for not making me feel too envious because you only saw ten times as many birds as I did this week. Usually it's a much wider gap))

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Ps . When I see a "common" anything for the first time, it makes me feel sad, because my big event is obviously so humdrum to everybody else in the whole world,

HansHB said...

A great serie, many details to study!
My post at:

Stewart M said...

Do I detect a tongue in a cheek somewhere!

Nice post.

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

Shey Wicklund said...

This is such an informative, interesting and funny post. I totally enjoyed reading it and of course, the captures are enjoyable to see too.

Gunilla Bäck said...

Lovely shots, Phil! It's not only the birds that are inappropriately named. A few years ago there were big discussions about the names of different candies here in Finland.

Marie said...

Great post! Loved the photos. But your narrative was awesome! The uproar about the names is "much ado about nothing" if you ask me...I loved how you brought it around to sexual connotations being the next field with tit and wagtail and the like. Too funny!

David Gascoigne said...

You were shimmying? This I gotta see. Maybe you can take a video and post it on line. Do you need special clothing or other gear to shimmy while birding. Maybe alliterativey you can shimmy after shorebirds and swans in spring and summer, but perhaps you'd better waddle in winter. As for political correctness, I used to be bald but now I am follicle deprived or suffering some form of tress deprivation. But since I always wear a hat while birding how could anyone ever know? My daughter always says that she knew why I was a birder when as a youngster of about fourteen she first looked through my field guide and saw it was full of tits and boobies! One name I thinks should really be changed to avoid tormenting the poor bird any more is Paltry Tyrannulet. No avian amigo would ever want to be considered paltry.

Anonymous said...

That bill on the common snipe is SO long... and the fine details of the swan make it quite regal looking... Thank you, Phil, for coming by sharing your creative photography on the Weekly Top Shot, #167!

Betsy Brock said...

I've never seen a black bird near me. I didn't even know they had yellow beaks! I think we only get crows. ha.

Fun60 said...

I couldn't stop sniggering. Oh dear is that an offensive word I have used? Sorry.

carol l mckenna said...

Wonderful photography of our beautiful avian friends!

Happy Week to you,
artmusedog and carol

Photo Cache said...

wonderful bird photography.

mick said...

Great post. I just want to watch the birds around me and not worry about political correctness! The birds don't care what I call them!

Adam Jones said...

Great post Phil, and I've had similar thoughts to yours here about the use of Common and Lesser in bird names. All of equal importance to me, and I wish the Common Gull was as common as the Black-headed Gull.
Super pictures, as always. said...

Beautiful details and I learned a lot. Beautiful to study them so close up. Fascinating names as well, short toed lark...never knew that one.

The Alpine Blogger said...

I was pleased to see a male Blackcap in Hambleton this morning. Unsure if an early migrant or an overwintering one.

Phil Slade said...

Good sighting AB. A wintering bird I'm sure but it could be on the move within the UK as it is March.

Phil Slade said...

Good sighting AB. A wintering bird I'm sure but it could be on the move within the UK as it is March.

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