Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Acronyms for Bird Names

Acronyms for Bird Names

    Based on some of the correspondence I have received recently or blogs I have read, there seems to be a bit of a resurgence in the use of acronyms when naming birds. I find this appalling. These acronyms were used as primitive computer codes, and are still in use at bird banding stations (in the latter case they still have valid application within the confines of the banding unit when everyone uses the same code). The acronyms are not always uniform and there seems to be no standardized, universally accepted set of rules. For example I have seen within the past week Red-winged Blackbird described as both RWBL and RWBK, and Herring Gull as HERG and HEGU.
    There is no single set of taxonomy subscribed to by everyone and the common names of birds vary somewhat depending on the systematic list one follows. The IOC, Howard & Moore, Clements etc do not always use the same name, but differences are clear when the full name is presented, but not when variable acronyms are used. I think that some people who are not sure of the accepted acronym actually make up their own.
    Ironically, people whom I would regard as prominent ornithologists in their respective geographic areas, or noted authorities on bird families, never seem to use anything but the complete common and scientific names. They strive for clarity and using the full name of the bird achieves this beyond doubt.
    Consider the following short paragraph:

The Purple Gallinule peered through the vegetation next to the Least Bittern as a Snowy Eget speared a frog. The Spot-breasted Oriole sang as the Blue-grey Gnatcatcher flitted by. Of course, there were lots of Green Herons, Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, to say nothing of the Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills.

    It's crystal clear. Now look at the same paragraph using acronyms:

The PUGA peered through the vegetation next to the LEBI, as a SNEG speared a frog. The SBOR sang as the BGGN flitted by. Of course there were lots of GRHE, GBHE and GREG, to say nothing of the WOST and ROSP.

   Which to you think is easier to read? And now, horror of all horrors, this is what it looks like when acronyms are used for the scientific names:

The PORMOR peered through the vegetation next to the IXOEXI as a EGRTHU speared a frog. The ICTPEC sang as the POLCAE flitted by. Of course there were lots of BUTVIR, ARDHER and ARDALB, to say nothing of the MYCAME and PLAAJA.

     Use acronyms for your own notes if you wish, or in a closed environment like a banding station where everyone involved employs the same codes and they are universally understood within the confines of that group. But please, use the full name under any other circumstances.
    I have reached the point that if I see an acronym I simply stop reading from that point onwards. No one's life can be so rushed that he/she does not have time to spell out the complete name of the bird, if what they are writing is worth the effort.


  1. This is so true. I am fairly new to birding and these abbreviations drive me crazy. Thank goodness you don't see them too often.

  2. I think it displays a lack of courtesy to, and a lack of consideration of, the reader not to use full names.