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Capitalization of Names


Dear Bird Folks,

I’m doing a report about birds for school and I’ve noticed that you don’t capitalize the names of birds in your articles. Shouldn’t they be capitalized?”

– Timmy, Harwich


Well, Timmy,

That’s a very good question. When I submit the column to the newspaper, all the birds’ names are capitalized, but somehow after the eggheads at the Cape Codder are done with it, all the birds have lowercase letters. I’m not sure what happens, but it’s probably the work of the same person who thought that last year’s hard-to-read-weirdly-folded Cape Codder was a good idea.

Although I’m not 100 percent sure of the exact rule, the usual rule of thumb for capitalizing bird names is that when you use the general names like gull or duck, you use all lowercase. But when you use specific names of a bird like Herring Gull or Wood Duck, you capitalize them. This rule seems to be followed in publications from the American Birding Association and in magazines like Birder’s World. Also, field guides from National Geographic and Roger Tory Peterson capitalize bird names. But in fairness, I’ve seen a few publications that don’t capitalize. So it seems either way is acceptable. The choice is yours. But whichever way you choose to write your report, make sure you don’t fold it in a weird, hard-to-read style. Then you’ll flunk for sure.