Study Finds That Racist Birds Avoid Poor Black Neighborhoods 

Lena_viridis /
Lena_viridis /

If you’re a bird watcher, put the binoculars down and step away slowly. You are a racist, watching racist birds do racist things in racist neighborhoods. 

Apparently, waking to the sound of birds chirping outside your window is symbolic of white and feathered privilege, per the Los Angeles Times. 

The article claims that the presence of birds in specific communities results from systemic racism. This publication, which previously labeled Larry Elder as the “blackface of white supremacy,” now asserts that birds participate in systemic racism by selecting where they inhabit.  

Birds, it seems, voluntarily inhabit different neighborhoods, with some species exclusively residing in affluent white areas. The article from the Los Angeles Times explained this as the “luxury effect” – where wealthier, often whiter, neighborhoods attract a more diverse bird population. In the Los Angeles Basin, bird species were found to be significantly segregated, according to the researchers. 

The Los Angeles Times references mortgage policies from the 1930s, which assessed mortgage lending risks. Areas with higher financial risks and poorer communities were predominantly nonwhite, while wealthier neighborhoods were predominantly white. The article goes on to note that more affluent neighborhoods often exhibited greater bird biodiversity. 

Per the piece, “communities historically subjected to redlining, predominantly composed of non-white residents” tend to have lower tree canopy coverage and higher housing density compared to neighborhoods marked as “greenlined.” Consequently, these conditions have led to decreased bird biodiversity in such areas.  

It presents a side of our feathered friends we never knew, and we are grateful for learning about the insidious, racist tendencies of avians. It’s a chilling look at the hidden dark side of seemingly innocent birds, and it’s one we could never have imagined. Who would have thought that birds prefer rural areas to densely populated urban neighborhoods? It’s a shocker all around. 

But it’s not that big of a stretch for birds to be racist. After all, according to some ornithological experts, they have racist names as well. 

Early naturalists like John James Audubon would often name newly discovered birds after friends or associates. However, according to experts, some of these eponymous names have raised significant concerns due to their problematic historical associations. One example is the Bachman’s sparrow, named after a Lutheran minister from South Carolina. He also considered himself a scientist who believed that white individuals were inherently superior to people of other races. 

But racism in birds is deeply rooted. The Audubon Society still bears the name of a man who enslaved Black people and criticized the emancipation of enslaved individuals in the Caribbean.  

Jordan Rutter is a co-founder of Bird Names for Birds, an organization dedicated to promoting inclusivity in birding by eliminating all bird names that are eponymous, meaning those named after individuals. In August 2020, Rutter initiated a petition directed at the American Ornithological Society, which holds the authority to assign names to birds, with the aim of championing this cause. 

Rutter describes these bird names as “verbal statues” because many of them pay tribute to figures associated with colonial and Confederate eras. These birds have had it far too good for too long, and it’s time for a reckoning. 

Mike Webster, the President of the American Ornithological Society, is fully dedicated to the idea of renaming certain bird species. One notable example is the renaming of McCown’s longspur to the thick-billed longspur because John McCown was a Confederate general.  

Webster sees this as a reflection of a growing awareness of social justice concerns within the field. “We want to, and will, change those bird names that need to be changed,” he vows. 

But these two intrepid social justice warriors can‘t address bird racism alone. An 18-member committee comprising ornithologists, experts, and activists was formed to oversee this pressing matter. 

And they are well on their way to solving this critical issue. Last year, the American Ornithological Society issued an apology for “inappropriate comments” made by its members nearly a decade ago concerning the proposal to rename the Maui parrotbill to its Hawaiian name, Kiwikiu. 

Take heart, birdwatchers, because while the wheels of racial justice may spin slowly, these resolute individuals are well on their way to ending the horrific cycle of bird racism for good. Yes, it’s true – racism is for the birds, but these social justice warriors are boldly renaming birds and exposing their hidden biases. Perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, we can finally achieve a more inclusive and harmonious coexistence with our feathered friends.