Tuesday, March 7, 2000

A Proposal for Abbreviating Bird Names: The Trinomial Shortform

Common names for birds can be lengthy to write; while there are 4-letter alpha codes for the common names (as well as 6-letter codes for their corresponding Latin names), they tend to be somewhat cryptic and unintuitive -- quick -- what species is BRBL, WTHA or RTBE?

As an alternative, the following system is proposed:

The system relies on taking the bird common name and decomposing it into all its constituent single words that can stand alone in English -- this means separating out compound words and ignoring spaces or punctuation.

The abbreviation then is formed by:
  1. 1st 3 letters of the Latin family name in title case
  2. 1st 3 letters of the first word in the decomposed form of the common name
  3. The initials formed by the 1st letters of each of the remaining words in the common name
In short:
<1st 3>.<1st 3>.<initials of each remaining word>

Examples:
Brown-headed Cowbird decomposes into:
Brown headed cow bird [free standing English words]
And, the trinomial shortform becomes: Ict.bro.hcb

Red-headed Woodpecker decomposes into:
Red headed wood pecker 
And, the trinomial shortform becomes: Pic.red.hwp

Brown-headed Nuthatch decomposes into:
Brown headed nut hatch 
And, the trinomial shortfrom is Sit.bro.hnh (family Sittidae)

Osprey -- no further decompositions; it becomes:
Pan.osp (family Pandionidae)


More Examples to illustrate how this works:

Par.bla.aww == Black-and-white Warbler (family Parulidae)
Ard.yel.cnh == Yellow-crowned Night Heron (family Aredide)
Ict.red.wbb == Red-winged Blackbird (family Icteridae)
Tyr.sci.tfc == Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (family Tyrranidae)
Odo.nor.bw == Northern Bobwhite (family Odontophoridae)
Cuc.man.c ==Mangrove Cuckoo (family Cuculidae)
Tur.her.t == Hermit Thrush (family Turdidae)
Anh.Anh == Anhinga (family Anhingidae)
Acc.bal.e == Bald Eagle (family Accipitridae)
Tyt.bar.o == Barn Owl (family Tytonidae)
Str.bar.o == Barred Owl (family Strigidae)
Str.bur.o == Burrowing Owl (family Strigidae)
Ana.Gar == Garganey (family Anatidae)
Par.pra.w == Prairie Warbler (family Parulidae)
Par.pro.w == Prothonotary Warbler (family Parulidae)

The advantages are that it combines the scientific family name (which we should all be learning anyway) with a short form of the common name which tends to be more intuitive than the cryptic alpha codes. The other advantage is that the shorthand names are simpler and unambiguous (unlike the 4 letter codes). Decoding the family name also greatly narrows down the range of possibilities for the species common name.

Since the Latin family names are key to the whole scheme, it is instructive to be aware of what all 73 of them are:

Family1st Three
Family: Accipitridae Eagles, kites and alliesAcc
Family: Aegithalidae BushtitsAeg
Family: Alaudidae LarksAla
Family: Alcidae Auks, murres and puffinsAlc
Family: Anatidae Ducks, geese, swansAna
Family: Anhingidae DartersAnh
Family: Apodidae SwiftsApo
Family: Aramidae LimpkinsAra
Family: Ardeidae Bitterns, herons and egretsArd
Family: Bombycillidae WaxwingsBom
Family: Caprimulgidae NightjarsCap
Family: Cardinalidae Cardinals, grosbeaks and alliesCar
Family: Cathartidae New World vulturesCat
Family: Certhiidae TreecreepersCer
Family: Cerylidae KingfishersCer
Family: Charadriidae Lapwings and ploversCha
Family: Ciconiidae StorksCic
Family: Cinclidae DippersCin
Family: Columbidae Pigeons and dovesCol
Family: Corvidae Jays, crows, magpies and ravensCor
Family: Cuculidae Cuckoos, roadrunners and anisCuc
Family: Diomedeidae AlbatrossesDio
Family: Emberizidae American sparrows, towhees and juncosEmb
Family: Falconidae Caracaras and falconsFal
Family: Fregatidae FrigatebirdsFre
Family: Fringillidae FinchesFri
Family: Gaviidae LoonsGav
Family: Gruidae CranesGru
Family: Haematopodidae OystercatchersHae
Family: Hirundinidae Swallows and martinsHir
Family: Hydrobatidae Storm petrelsHyd
Family: Icteridae Blackbirds, meadowlarks, cowbirds, grackles and New World oriolesIct
Family: Laridae Gulls, terns and skimmersLar
Family: Mimidae Mockingbirds and thrashersMim
Family: Motacillidae Wagtails and pipitsMot
Family: Odontophoridae New World quailOdo
Family: Pandionidae OspreyPan
Family: Paridae Chickadees and titmicePar
Family: Parulidae New World warblerPar
Family: Passeridae Old World sparrowsPas
Family: Pelecanidae PelicansPel
Family: Peucedramidae Olive warblerPeu
Family: Phaethontidae TropicbirdsPha
Family: Phalacrocoracidae CormorantsPha
Family: Phasianidae Partridges, grouse, turkeys and Old World quailPha
Family: Phoenicopteridae FlamingosPho
Family: Picidae Woodpeckers, sapsuckers and flickersPic
Family: Podicipedidae GrebesPod
Family: Polioptilidae GnatcatchersPol
Family: Procellariidae Shearwaters and petrelsPro
Family: Psittacidae Lorikeets, parakeets, macaws and parrotsPsi
Family: Ptiliogonatidae Silky flycatchersPti
Family: Pycnonotidae BulbulsPyc
Family: Rallidae Rails, gallinules and cootsRal
Family: Recurvirostridae Stilts and avocetsRec
Family: Regulidae KingletsReg
Family: Remizidae VerdinRem
Family: Scolopacidae Sandpipers and alliesSco
Family: Sittidae NuthatchesSit
Family: Stercorariidae SkuasSte
Family: Strigidae True owlsStr
Family: Sturnidae Starlings and mynasStu
Family: Sulidae Boobies and gannetsSul
Family: Sylviidae Old World warblersSyl
Family: Threskiornithidae Ibises and spoonbillsThr
Family: Tityridae Tityras and alliesTit
Family: Trochilidae HummingbirdsTro
Family: Troglodytidae WrensTro
Family: Trogonidae TrogonsTro
Family: Turdidae ThrushesTur
Family: Tyrannidae Tyrant flycatchersTyr
Family: Tytonidae Barn OwlsTyt
Family: Vireonidae VireosVir
 

These are the 73 of the 200-odd bird families found globally that we can expect to find in the US.

In normal usage, once used, in the interest of further brevity, it would be possible to omit the family name; the resulting abbreviation would not begin in title case. Eg.,:

"At the Church Rd venue, 4 Tyr.sci.tfc and 3 Tyr.wes.kb were seen. The sci.tfc were perched on the overhead wires while the wes.kb were flying back and forth between the fence and the shrubs on the other side of the road."