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To: "'Birding Aus'" <>
Subject: (no subject)
From: "Richard Nowotny" <>
Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2012 18:57:55 +1000
Ian May has, in my opinion, made the most helpful contribution to this
interesting discussion with his reference to an article by Kenneth C. Parkes
in The Auk in 1978. It is a very useful review of the joint problems of
capitalization and hyphenation, with a recommended set of "rules". Many
readers may already have opened and read the article. However, for those who
chose not to or feared that it may be too long or too technical I have
copied it below (with some minor formatting changes to the copied version in
an attempt to make it more easily readable). I commend it to you if you
haven't already read it - at least the initial paragraphs (which deal
specifically with the issue of capitalization).

Thanks Ian.



Port Melbourne, Victoria

M: 0438 224 456






KENNETH  C.  PARKES  Carnegie Museum of Natural  History,  Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania 15213 USA 


There is much variation in usage, and much uncertainty among authors and 

editors (especially editors of nonornithological publications), with respect
to the or- 

thography of  English names ("common names" or  "vernacular names" of  many 

authors, but see Parkes 1975: 819) when these names are compounded from two

more words. I  refer only to the English group-name, not to the modifying
word or 

words used to denote the particular species. Our concern here is with

and not with  "Magnificent." 

The first modern attempt to standardize the orthography of the English names

North American birds was made by Cheesman and Oehser (1937), in a report

nally prepared for the Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of the

can Ornithologists' Union.  The recommendations in their report dealt with

matters of orthography beyond those considered here. 

Eisenmann (1955), in his paper on Middle American birds, "followed in the

the recommendations  of Cheesman and Oehser, and, in turn, most of the names

by Meyer de Schauensee (1966) were those recommended by Eisenmann as a

tant on English nomenclature. Even within these two works, however, the

of compound names is inconsistent. 

In  spite of the editorial policies of some journals and book publishing

most ornithologists (including the writer) appear to believe firmly that the
names of 

bird species should be capitalized. The usual reasons given for this, which
are valid, 

are that it prevents the ambiguousness of such combinations as "gray
flycatcher" and 

"solitary sandpiper," and that it makes the names of birds easier to spot in
a page of 

print.  In  addition, the English name of a bird species can be considered
to be aproper 

name,  and thus entitled to  capitalization (see editor's footnote in
Cheesman and 

Oehser 1937: 335). Group-names in the plural are sometimes capitalized when

are intended as parts of two  or more species names: thus, Common and

Terns  rather  than  Common and  Roseate terns (U.S.  Government  Printing

1959:22). However,  the Council of Biology Editors prefers the second

version (Council of Biology Editors 1972: 184), which should be used in

intended for biological journals. 

When  group-names are used alone in  a textual context, whether single or

pound, they are not capitalized. Thus we write,  "The smallest of the

is the Bee Hummingbird." Similarly, Otus choliba is the Tropical
Screech-Owl, but 

there are several other species of Otus collectively called screech-owls
(some of which 

are tropical screech-owls). 

I  developed the following "rules" during my attempt to standardize the

ture used in  the "Avian  Biology" series (Farner and King  1971-1975). They

intended as a kind of style manual; that is, guidelines for an approach to
an almost 

complete consistency in the formation of compound names. Some are virtually

changed from  those of  Cheesman and Oehser, and others attempt to  codif.v

refinements made by Eisenmann and others. Adherence to these "rules" will,
it  is

hoped, result in  consistency of usage within  journals  and in
ornithological works 

with  multiple  authorship. 

I  am indebted to Eugene Eisenmann, Chairman of the Committee on Classifica-

tion and Nomenclature of the A.O.U.,  for having read several drafts of this
paper; a 

number of his suggestions have been incorporated in this version. The

voted to adopt the "rules" in the A.O.U.  Check-list, and has followed them
in the 

published Supplements to the fifth edition. The manuscript was also read by

G.  Sibley, whose forthcoming book on birds of the world  will  also reflect





I.  Compound bird names should be spelled as a single word,  unhyphenated,


A.  The second component is the word "bird." 

EXAMPLES: Tropicbird, Frigatebird, Oilbird, Hummingbird, Puffbird. 


B.  The second component is a part of the body. 

EXAMPLES:  Spoonbill,  Pintail,  Finfoot,  Lapwing,  Yellowlegs, 

Greenshank, Barbthroat, Violetear. 


C.  The  name describes an activity of the bird (whether or not

EXAMPLES:  Shearwater,  Roadrunner,  Goatsucker,  Honeyguide,  Wood- 

creeper, Gnatcatcher, Seedeater. 


D.  The second component is a misnomer; either (1) a fanciful

noun, or (2) a group of birds to which the bird in question does not really 


EXAMPLES: (1) Woodnymph, Hillstar,  Sunangel; (2) Sungrebe, Seedsnipe, 

Nighthawk,  Antpitta,  Fruitcrow,  Peppershrike, Waterthrush, 



E.  The  second component is a broadly categorical bird  name, not applying

any one particular kind of bird. 

EXAMPLES:  Moorhen,  Guineafowl,  Peacock and Woodcock, Bananaquit 

and Grassquit ("Quit"  =  old Jamaican word for a little  bird; 

Newton  and  Gadow  1896: 761). 


F.  The  name is onomatapoeic. 

EXAMPLES:  Bobwhite, Killdeer, Poorwill, Chickadee, Chiffchaff. 

EXCEPTIONS: Names that would normally be spelled as single unhyphenated

under this rule should be spelled as two  (or  more)  hyphenated  words,

only  the  first  capitalized,  when: 


(1) Spelling as a single word would result in a double or triple letter,
from the 

juxtaposition of the last letter of the first word and the first letter of


EXAMPLES:  Thick-knee,  not Thickknee  (or Thicknee  as in  Williams  1963: 

89); Bee-eater, not Beeeater; Whip-poor-will,  not Whippoor- 

will;  Swallow-wing,  not  Swallowwing;  White-eye,  not 



(2)  An  unhyphenated word would be excessively long (usually four syllables

more), or clumsy, or imply an incorrect pronunciation. 

EXAMPLES:  Plains-wanderer, not Plainswanderer; Chuckswill's-widow, not 

Chuckwill'swidow; Foliage-gleaner, not Foliagegleaner; Fire- 

wood-gatherer,  not  Firewoodgatherer; False-sunbird,  not 

Falsesunbird; Silky-flycatcher,  not  Silkyflycatcher; Mudnest- 

builder,  not Mudnestbuilder.


II.  Compound bird names should be spelled as two  capitalized,  hyphenated 

words,  if: 


The second component is the name of a kind of bird,  and is not a misnomer;

the bird in question does belong to that general group. The first component

be a noun or an adjective. 

EXAMPLES: Storm-Petrel,  Diving-Petrel,  Night-Heron,  Whistling-Duck, 

Painted-Snipe, Ground-Dove,  Screech-Owl, Wood-Wren,  Bush- 

Shrike,  Brush-Finch. 

EXCEPTIONS: Some bird names that are technically of this kind have become

sconced in the English language as single nouns in their own right. As might

expected, these are names that  were originally applied to British  birds,
viz.  Spar- 

rowhawk, Skylark, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch. In  some, the

word has even evolved away from its original spelling, viz.  Shelduck,




There  is obviously a  subjective element in  decisions as to what  is
awkward  or 

excessively long and thus to be excepted from being spelled as a single word

Category I.  Few cases, however, should present any difficulties of

One special case is that of the group name for the Paradisaeidae. Ideally we

call these "Paradisebirds," but the inverted version is too firmly fixed to
alter. I have 

seen the  name rendered as "Bird  of Paradise," "Bird  of paradise,"  and

paradise"; I  recommend the hyphenated form as used by Thomson (1964). 

No  compound group-name for  a  bird  should be  spelled as two unhyphenated

words. In  some instances this conflicts with A.O.U.  Check-list usage, but
not with 

that  of Eisenmann; thus, "Night  Heron"  of the A.O.U.  (1957) should be

Heron." (On the other hand, "Great Blue Heron" and "Little  Blue Heron" are 

unhyphenated, as there is no group of "Blue-Herons," both adjectives in
these two 

names modifying the group-name "heron.") In a few cases, Eisenmann himself

unhyphenated words, but consistency  would require that these be hyphenated.

"Black-Hawk"  rather than "Black Hawk"  should be used for the species of

lus, congruent with Eisenmann's use of "Yellow-Finch" for the species of

There is no justification for such a splitting as "oyster catcher" or "seed


The  Auk  95: 324-326.  April  1978


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