Tuesday 18 April 2017

What's in a Name by Carlo Giovanella


Carlo Giovanella (text and photos)

Used with permission.

Bird Names - a case of Capital Confusion!

Anyone with a serious interest in plants will be well aware of the confusion over the common names in use.  A given species often has several, and sometimes many, common names applied to it, so use of the binomial Latin names are almost essential to avoid confusion.  Fortunately, the birding world has found a way to avoid the problem, but unfortunately not everyone buys into the solution.

The AOU (American Ornithology Union) and similar world-wide organizations have formalized the common names for each species, so each has only one officially recognized name.  Because the names are formal, they should be capitalized like all proper names.  The unfortunate part is that the convention is not universally accepted.  Often this is because not everyone is aware of the protocol, and others simple choose to ignore the convention.  For some inexplicable reason most editors of books, magazines, and newspapers obstinately refuse to follow along.  

I present two illustrations to demonstrate why we all should always use capitals for bird names.

Example #1 

The corvid family includes a number of jays that are basically blue in colour, seven species of which occur in North America, and three that can be seen in BC (plus is a single record of a fourth - Pinyon Jay).

The most-common one is a Steller’s Jay.

Western Scrub Jay, a rare and fairly recent intruder to the southwest corner of the Province.

Note: Since this article was originally published the Western Scrub Jay is now California Scrub Jay.

 California Scrub Jay

Note that all three birds in the photos are 'blue jays' (or blue-coloured jays), but only the last one is properly a Blue Jay.  Use of capitals for the bird’s name removes any ambiguity about its identity!

Example #2

The bird in the photo below could correctly be labelled as 'White Rock pigeon', or as a 'white Rock Pigeon'.  The first label indicates where the photo was taken (in this case on the pier at White Rock Village), and the general kind of bird, but not the actual species.  The second label identifies the exact species and the colour of the individual, but does not provide location.

This one could also be correctly labelled as a 'White Rock pigeon’, because it is a pigeon and it was located in White Rock.  However, you can see it is not white, and it is in fact a Band-tailed Pigeon, not a Rock Pigeon.

Got it?  Perhaps you are more confused than ever.  But PLEASE capitalize your Bird Names!

This article came about when Carlo asked me why I wasn't capitalizing birds names. The reason dates back to my newspaper days where we used Canadian Press rules for animal names which was not to capitalize. The habit continued when I started blogging . I always felt it odd and have now changed my ways thanks to Carlos' sage advice.

"It never too late to start capitalizing bird names "
John Gordon 
BC Canada

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