[CT Birds] Writing About Birds: A Question

james.bair at snet.net james.bair at snet.net
Fri Dec 11 19:58:36 EST 2009

Dear Bill:

You wrote:

I probably should know this but I don't. When writing about birds for the public what are the conventions for capitalization? ?Which are correct?
1. I like bald eagles.2.?I like Bald Eagles.3. The Bald Eagles is our symbol.4. The bald eagle is our symbol.5. Another favorite is the red-shouldered hawk.6. Another favorite is the Red-shouldered Hawk.7. Another favorite is the Red-shouldered hawk.

The convention for capitalizing is that a species name is considered a proper noun. So Bald Eagle is our national symbol. However, if you were to say "the eagle is our national symbol," that is not capitalized because it is not a specific name. That would include any part of the specific name, so both Red-Shouldered and Hawk would be capitalized. Most authorities would capitalize the "S" in "Shouldered," too, the way most hyphenated human names capitalize each part, e.g., Mary-Ann rather than Mary-ann.

For what it is worth, when I am not out chasing birds, I am usually teaching high school English or working on computer programs to help people with English grammar (see englishplus.com).

Jim Bair

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