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Why dozens of Pa. birds are getting new names

Plus, a Princess Diana-inspired Philly 'melee.'

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

November 17, 2023
Inside this edition: Philly princess, holiday haunts, ancient AI, meet flute, Delco's Kris Jenner, and bird names. Thanks for checking in.  
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🏆 HIGH SCORE: Stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Legal pot next door, Biden family subpoenas, and Black Friday origins.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Pennsylvania's first-ever dive coaster — that's a roller coaster with one or more near-vertical drops — is being built at which of these parks? 

A.  Dorney Park
B.  Knoebels Amusement Resort
C.  DelGrosso’s Amusement Park
D.  Hersheypark 

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One jacket worth chasing: While replicas of the iconic Philadelphia Eagles jacket Princess Diana wore in the 1990s quickly sold out last week (one outlet described the scene as "a melee"), you can still read this thread by journalist Dan McQuade on the real story behind the coat

» Two stories worth sharing: Christmas decorations are going up. If you’re looking to experience Christmas magic, ABC27 compiled a list of the best Pennsylvania towns to visit for a dose of holiday cheer. The station also has a full list of midstate holiday markets and fairs.

» One play worth finishing: A play left unfinished by the Greek scribe Sophocles 2,400 years ago has been "completed" by a Pitt-Johnstown professor with ChatGPT, the Tribune-Democrat reports. Parts of the play will be staged in Room 131 of Blackington Hall Nov. 30.

» One album worth knowing: André 3000 has released a solo album of flute music and Philadelphians knew it was coming since that summer he kept popping up around town with the instrument in tow.

» One interaction worth seeing: The Delaware County woman featured on the Golden Bachelor did not win Gerry Turner’s heart, but she did get a shoutout from her lookalike, Kris Jenner, Philly Voice reports.

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Spending on Pa. Supreme Court race topped $22M

» Mariner East II pipeline fines totaled $42 million

» GOP Sen. has 'no plans' to advance Dem gun bills

» Feds take over DuBois city manager's corruption case

» Can lawmakers finally finish Pa.'s budget?

» Pa. leads the nation for Lyme disease cases
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A closeup of a multicolored hawk in front of a blurred background of branches and leaves.
Cooper's hawk is one of the Pennsylvania birds that could get a new name as authorities in the field look to dissociate the animals from namesakes with problematic pasts. All bird names that reference historical figures are being reassessed. Cooper's hawk is named for William Cooper, a New York scientist and naturalist. (Flickr / Renee Grayson)

Several birds that live in and flutter around Pennsylvania could have new names in the near future. 

The American Ornithological Society announced Nov. 1 that it will rename North American birds to dissociate the animals from namesakes with problematic pasts. Several birds, such as the Townsend’s warbler and solitaire, are named after racists.

Peter Saenger, an ornithologist with Muhlenberg College in Allentown, told PA Local the project could affect over a dozen birds that breed in, migrate to, or visit Pennsylvania. Among them: 

The American Ornithological Society expects to assess about 80 names next year. Instead of judging on a case-by-case basis, the AOS said it will review all birds with human names. It plans to convene a committee that will solicit input from both the public and experts from various scientific fields.

The AOS has maintained a list of common, English bird names in some form since 1886 and is the scientific organization responsible for registering and standardizing English bird names across the Americas.

The organization’s president, Colleen Handel, said the group hopes the renaming effort will invite more people to bird-watching and spotlight the animals rather than the humans who peep at them.

“We need a much more inclusive and engaging scientific process that focuses attention on the unique features and beauty of the birds themselves. Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely — and birds need our help now more than ever,” Handel said in a statement.

Judith Scarl, CEO and executive director of the society, said the project could help reverse longstanding biases among birders.

“Exclusionary naming conventions developed in the 1800s, clouded by racism and misogyny, don’t work for us today, and the time has come for us to transform this process and redirect the focus to the birds, where it belongs,” Scarl said.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, told PA Local that finalizing the names could take years. He said birds’ appearances or sounds could influence the new monikers

“They might take it in batches. Do it 20 at a time,” Bonner said. “The process can take a fair amount of time to work through it.”

Bonner traced the effort to make birding more inclusive to the racial justice movement of 2020, when bird-watchers were among the Americans nationwide who protested police violence and reckoned with institutional racism. In particular, a racist incident in Central Park that year in which a white woman called the police on a Black birder was a watershed.

Audubon's shearwater, a bird named after naturalist and slaveowner John James Audubon, is among the birds on the ornithological society's list. The Audubon Society is named for the same man but decided to keep its title, a choice that led to resignations and local chapters going rogue.

Susan Bell, chair of the National Audubon Society’s Board of Directors, explained the organization's name "has come to represent so much more than the work of one person."

Reactions to the American Ornithological Society’s plan to rename American birds en masse have varied.

Saenger, president of the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society, initially disagreed with the move.

“I was thinking, ‘Who even digs into the history?’ I was unaware of the backgrounds of many of these people,” he said. “I was naive to the fact that these people did anything bad.”

Saenger said after reflection, he came to support renaming all birds instead of judging them individually. Not only would it be easier logistically, but in his own experience, birders are adaptable.

“When I started thinking about the names that have changed over the decades since I started bird-watching — we get used to it,” he added.

Daniel Klem Jr., president of the international Wilson Ornithological Society, said he is disappointed that mass renaming will affect historical figures with clean slates.

But Klem, who also teaches at Muhlenberg College, said he supports AOS’s decision.

“It’s good to eliminate offensive personalities affiliated with birds and replace them with more descriptive names to help us communicate better,” he said.

The name changes do not affect too much of the process for people like Brian Wargo, the president of Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society.

“We don’t expect too much of a difference. They have done this in the past, renaming birds,” Wargo said.

He recalled when the goshawk was reclassified as two birds, American goshawk and Eurasian goshawk.

“This one was due to vocalization patterns and genetic differences. They needed to split the species. Occasionally they will bring them back together,” he said.

Wargo added: "It is interesting how we grapple with our history ... It is a complicated question. It is good we determine those things."

Saenger, who has written a field guide on birds, said he expects the renaming process to be interesting.

“Birds have become an incredible attraction for people, especially during the pandemic. It will be interesting to see how people new to the hobby react to this,” he said.

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"But I will return to Philadelphia because it sits in a sweet spot. Neither as indifferent as [NYC] nor as humourless as [California] and certainly not over-friendly, like the Midwest. It is in the Goldilocks zone of American cities. If the country still has magic, you will find it here."

Reporter Thom Gibbs of London's The Daily Telegraph newspaper in his travel piece titled: “Why Philadelphia is the only American city that feels sane.”

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The entrance to Pen Ryn Estate along the Delaware River in Bucks County, via David M. Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
fall color foliage leaves on dozens of trees along a road
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Dorney Park is getting a new dive coaster called The Iron Menace. It's set to open in 2024 and will be the park's first new coaster in 19 years.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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