[CT Birds] Writing about birds. A question.

Greg Hanisek ghanisek at rep-am.com
Fri Dec 11 21:56:12 EST 2009

I'm sure eyes are glazing over all across the list, but I'll chime in anyway 
since I'm a newspaper editor. I'm basically summarizing some points that 
have already been made, but I'd emphasize that as noted by Jay, bird names 
(or any other animal or plant names) are not capitalized in standard 
writing. Grab any dictionary and look up (for example as I just did) bald 
eagle, ring-necked duck, ring-necked pheasant or bald-cypress. No capitals 
in any of them. I write a newspaper column about nature and don't capitalize 
the names. The capitals wouldn't get past many professional newspaper copy 
desks. Same goes for breeds of dogs such as fox terrier or names of diseases 
such as cystic fibrosis (but note Yorkshire terrier and Lyme disease), all 
of which routinely get capitalized improperly. This is because none of these 
are proper nouns. Proper nouns refer to specific places, such as Yorkshire 
and Lyme, or specific individuals, such as Jamie Meyers and Petey Peregrine 
in a cage at a nature center (Petey not Jamie, who is quite a singular 
entity by the way).

All that said, books and other writing specifically about nature subjects 
regularly adopt as style the capitialization of animal and plant names, 
especially if standardized English names have been adopted by some 
organization. As Patrick Comins and others have noted, this avoids confusion 
between a little (small) gull and a Little Gull (a distinct species). That's 
why we use capitalization in The Connecticut Warbler and why it's best to 
use it on this list. I also use it on my nature blog at my newspaper, 
because I don't have to run it through my own copy desk!


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Roy Harvey" <rmharvey at snet.net>
To: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Friday, December 11, 2009 9:13 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] Writing about birds. A question.

Jamie, I understand your problem with saying "42 Snow Goose" instead of 
Geese.  It bugs me a bit too.  The only argument I can give in support of 
using the improper Goose in such a case is that computer searches are 
generally too stupid to pick up both variations in a single search.  In the 
daily report I (mostly) leave it the way the original poster typed it rather 
than standardize.

Roy Harvey
Beacon Falls, CT

--- On Fri, 12/11/09, Jamie Meyers <ctredbird2 at comcast.net> wrote:

> While not exactly on the topic of Bill's post, I do wish
> there were better understood standards for the use of
> pluralization of birds in written communication. If
> you have seen one pelican, then you have seen one pelican,
> without an S at the end. If you have seen 8 pelicans,
> then you have seen 8 pelicans, with an S at the end.
> Same goes for ducks, hawks, sparrows and probably 95% of the
> birds we see. There are widespread misuses in this
> area all the time, and it makes me wonder if the grammar
> rules changed in the past few years and I didn't get the
> memo. Of course, English being what it is (and I'm not
> an English major so I don't feel THAT qualified to talk
> about it), there are some species, such as Killdeer and the
> teal, where the plurals are not so clear.

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