Capitalize Bird Names Dammit!

A yellow warbler, but not a Yellow Warbler. (Wilson's Warbler, Denali Highway, a few years back).

A yellow warbler, but not a Yellow Warbler. (Wilson’s Warbler, Denali Highway, a few years back).

Take a gander at some of the birding magazines, websites, and blogs out there. Go on, take a look, I’ll wait.

If you spent a few minutes browsing, I suspect you encountered two different naming protocols: Upper Case Bird Names, and lower case bird names. Scientifically-oriented publications and websites tend to use upper case while others mix it up, but will often favor lower case. Audubon Magazine, in the last year, made the shift from using lower case to upper in their publication. It created quite a stir, and there were some letters to the editor in the following issues from people who were very upset at the change. Other magazines, like Birds and Blooms, whom I write for on a regular basis, continue to use a lower case naming scheme.

Audubon (belatedly) got it right, and Birds and Blooms (as much as I love them) stubbornly continues to get it wrong, and I’ll tell you why:

It has to do with clarity. Take the following sentence:

When I was out birding this morning, I saw three yellow warblers and a solitary sandpiper.

OK, great, but did you see three separate species of yellow warblers? (There are, after all, many warbler species that are yellow). And a lone sandpiper, right? Or did I get that wrong?

Much easier to understand would be:

When I was out birding this morning, I saw three Yellow Warblers and a Solitary Sandpiper. 

No confusion there.

I don’t understand the resistance to making the change. Bird names have been capitalized and standardized in the scientific community for decades. I have yet to hear a compelling argument why capitalization shouldn’t be used when it is so effective at eliminating confusion.

Rant over.