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).
Port Melbourne, Victoria
M: 0438 224 456
A GUIDE TO FORMING AND CAPITALIZING COMPOUND NAMES OF BIRDS IN
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
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
bird species should be capitalized. The usual reasons given for this, which
are that it prevents the ambiguousness of such combinations as "gray
"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
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
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
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,
hoped, result in consistency of usage within journals and in
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
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
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,
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
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-
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,
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
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
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
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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