Wednesday 21 January 2015

white-winged dove at my feeders!

See what I did there? I wanted to illustrate one of my biggest pet peeves committed by publishers and writers - not capitalizing bird names. It drives me (and lots of other birders) nuts since in our opinion, these are proper nouns and should be capitalized. And yes, I know what the style guides say! In this example, this is a dove with white wings, hence "white-winged dove", but you probably got excited thinking I meant a real "White-winged Dove", which is a rare visitor to Ontario. Sorry to disappoint you...

But seriously, this is a pretty cool looking bird that I've been lucky enough to see most days for the past couple of weeks. Interestingly, the white primaries are not symmetrical on both wings, which is often the case when a bird has some sort of pigment issue like this. There's a lot of confusion out there with regards to birders and terminology to describe partially white plumage (e.g. leucistic, albino) and I'm not up-to-speed on this topic. David Sibley probably summed it up much better than I can here.

Well, if you came here looking for a White-winged Dove in the winter in Ontario, sorry to disappoint you, but don't despair, look over there!


  1. Good morning Mike: I agree that bird names should be capitalized, but I think that a valid argument could be made that they are not proper nouns. Capitalizing adds a sense of clarity and one knows immediately whether one is speaking of a great blue heron (generically) or a Great Blue Heron (specifically). But it goes much further than this. One sees names mangled all the time. On the list for a recent Christmas Bird Count in which I participated I was dismayed to see Great-horned Owl instead of the correct Great Horned Owl. The meaning is entirely different of course. There is no intent in the nomenclature to reflect on the greatness of the owl's horns, but there is a statement that in the realm of horned owls it merits the adjective Great. A horned-owl and a Horned Owl are two different things entirely. How often have you seen Great-crested Flycatcher instead of Great Crested Flycatcher? A simple examination of the sister species' name Brown-crested Flycatcher would perhaps illustrate the difference for people. But one sees Semi-palmated Plover rather than Semipalmated Plover and so on. It dismays me that birders do not take the time to understand bird nomenclature and accurately use it. I have a coffee mug that someone gave me with a new species, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird that I am still waiting to see. In fact I don't believe I have ever seen a Throated Hummingbird at all. But I do have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at my feeders all summer. In the case of your dove, when it is not capitalized one could be forgiven for wondering whether it is any dove with white wings, or whether it is in fact a unique species, White-winged Dove, Hmmm, maybe they are proper nouns after all!

  2. Hey Mike: I agree with you wholeheartedly about the capitalization issue, and I have had this discussion on numerous occasions with a (non-biologist) friend who is much more proficient than I am about the official writing styles. However the official "Guide to Writing and Editing' as per the Dept of the Secretary of State of Canada does say that scientific names down to genus are to be capitalized, but common names are not, and so non-biologist types defer to that practice. Fortunately many biological publications do capitalize common names.