Re capitalisation of bird names

To: "Birding-aus!" <>
Subject: Re capitalisation of bird names
From: "John Layton" <>
Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2008 21:21:27 +1000
Looks as if this little bone of contention has been around for a good while. 
American author Scott Weidensaul, in the preface of his book, Living On The 
Wind - Across the hemisphere with migratory birds, includes the following 
footnote. The comments in brackets are Weidensaul's, not mine:

*A note about bird names. While it isn't one of the crucial issues of the day, 
there is a testy little debate in ornithological circles about whether or not 
to capitalize the complete, proper names of birds, like Wood Thrush or Lesser 
Gold Finch (but not the more general thrush or goldfinch, when the specific 
name does not appear). Generally, those writing for scientific works tend to 
capitalize, arguing that it reduces confusion (which it does), while those 
pursuing a more literary style of writing do not, considering the practice 
pretentious and visually awkward (which it is). Bird names are not capitalized 
in this book, but they are in many of the writings from which I quote, which 
can make for some pretty bumpy reading; likewise, the word "neotropical", 
referring to the New World tropics and the birds that inhabit them, is subject 
to similar ups and downs, depending on who is being quoted.

I once asked an editor at The Canberra Times why she'd removed the 
capitalisations from the bird names and deleted the scientific names that I'd 
included in a little story of mine she'd published, and her reply virtually 
mirrored Weidensaul's comments.


John Layton

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