This is the Style and Usage Guide of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, developed by the Communications Department for all Lab communications in print or online. If you have questions or concerns, please email Hugh Powell. Also let us know if your department has any special terms or words not included on this guide.\

Bird names are capitalized and punctuated according to the current AOU Check-list (; when writing a bird name that is not included in the AOU Check-list, it is capitalized and punctuated according to Clements (

Always use "the Cornell Lab of Ornithology" in the first reference to our institution in any written document or verbal interview. Subsequent references to our name can be shortened to "the Cornell Lab," or "the Lab," or "the Lab of Ornithology." Notice that "the" is not capitalized unless it is the first word of a sentence. (Some organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, include "The" as part of their official name. We do not. You can certainly use the word "the,"which often sounds more graceful in sentences. In the beginning of a sentence or listing, it would be capitalized, but if you were to write the sentence "I work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology," you'd not capitalize it.)

In a scientific paper, if your affiliation is with the Lab, Cornell Lab of Ornithology should be the preferred name. Some people have affiliations with campus as well, in which case Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Cornell University could be a possibility if the journal allows it. The main thing that is important is that our institutional name is "Cornell Lab of Ornithology" so people should not be using a shortened form such as "Lab of Ornithology" in a citation.

Do not use "Lab of O," "CLO," "O Lab," or "Cornell University Lab of Ornithology" in any official publications. For photo credits, use "Cornell Lab." Also note that we no longer use "Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology."

Please notice that throughout this document, because of some sort of glitch in Confluence, en-dashes, em-dashes, and small caps do not show properly. Fortunately, most of the Lab's software for producing online or print communications allow these symbols.


accipiter [n] in reference to the general group of hawks rather than the genus, which is always Accipiter.
Adirondacks (not Adirondack Mountains)
Allegany (County, State Park, Reservation)
Allegheny (River, Mountains, Reservoir)
and (Always write out. Do not use & unless in a title and very tight for space.)
AOU (American Ornithologists' Union)
AOU Check-list (but checklist when generic)
Atlantic Coast
atlaser (referring to participants in Breeding Bird Atlas projects)
Atlas map
Atlas project
AUTHOR ATTRIBUTION (From Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition)

Last Name, First name, Abbreviations that are part of the name:

 Parker, Theodore A., III

 Ross, David L., Jr.

Note that academic titles are not retained in indexing.



bald cypress

Big Day, Big-Day [adj]
Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP)
bird box
birder (preferred in NY State Atlas project to bird watcher)
bird feeder
bird feeding [n]
Bird Population Studies (BPS)
bird song [n] , birdsong [adj]
Birds in Forested Landscapes
bird sound
Birds of North America Online (Italicized when referring to this as a publication. When making quick online referrals, use your judgment.)
bird walks, not birdwalks
bird watcher [n]
bird watching [n]
bird-watching [adj]
Boy Scout
brackish-water marsh
breeding grounds
Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)
Breeding Bird Survey routes
brush pile
bulrush [singular and plural]
buteo [n] in reference to the general group of hawks rather than the genus, which is always Buteo.
by (lower case before author name--this is a new policy for some publications but has been standard for Living Bird.)


call note
Celebrate Urban Birds (Note: Only use "CUBs" internally or, when space constraints or flow of writing make it necessary, only use after the initial use is "Celebrate Urban Birds (CUBs).")
checklist (but AOU Check-list)
Christmas Bird Count (CBC)
citizen science [n] (not Citizen Science)
citizen-science [adj]
color band

computer-processed [adj]
Conservation Science (Lab program)
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Always use "the Cornell Lab of Ornithology" in the first reference to our institution in any written document or verbal interview. Subsequent references to our name can be shortened to "the Cornell Lab," or "the Lab." Notice that "the" is not capitalized unless it is the first word of a sentence. In a scientific paper, if your affiliation is with the Lab, Cornell Lab of Ornithology should be the preferred name. Some people have affiliations with campus as well, in which case Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Cornell University could be a possibility if the journal allows it. The main thing that is important is that our institutional name is "Cornell Lab of Ornithology" so people should not be using a shortened form such as "Lab of Ornithology" in a citation. If the citation wants your institution and location, "Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York" would be correct.
Do not use "Lab of O," "CLO," "O Lab," or "Cornell University Lab of Ornithology" in any official publications. For photo credits, use "Cornell Lab." Also note that we no longer use "Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology."

Cornell Plantations (not The Cornell Plantations)

data bank
disc (compact disc)
disk (computer disk); usage varies for terms like "facial disk"


en-dash (To make an en-dash, use keystrokes <option><hyphen> on a Mac or <alt><hyphen> on a PC.)
em-dash (To make an em-dash, use keystrokes <shift><option><hyphen> on a Mac, or <shift><alt><hyphen> on a PC. Microsoft Word usually auto-replaces two hyphens with an em-dash.)
the Earth (cf. "the smell of fresh earth")
the East, East Coast


farther (distance; cf. further)
FeederWatch (Use Project FeederWatch the first time, then the shorter name.)
fence post
field guide
field marks
Flickr (the website, not the bird)
fly-catching [adj]
fly catching [n]
flycatcher (a bird belonging to Tyrannidae, Muscicapidae, or Monarchidae)
fly catcher (anything, from a baseball player to a frog to a waxwing, that catches flies but does not belong to Tyrannidae, Muscicapidae, or Monarchidae)
freelance [adj, vi]; freelancer
freshwater [adj]
fresh water [n]
full-color [adj]; full color [n]
fundraising, a fund-raiser
further (additional degree, time, or quantity; cf. farther)


game bird
game farm [n]
game-farm [adj]
Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)
ground-foraging [adj]
ground-nesting [adj]


Hawaii [n] Increasingly this is being spelled with a diacritical: Hawai'i, in recognition of the resurgence of native culture and attempt to bring the Hawaiian language back to life. Our reference dictionary gives the diacritical as only the second recognized spelling of the word. Chicago Manual of Style doesn't mention Hawaiian explicitly, and in general takes an equivocal position: foreign words should be checked carefully for special characters but diacriticals should be minimized in text (sections 10.14 and 10.92, 15th ed.). The 2011 State of the Birds report used the diacritical (ornithologists in Hawaii tend to advocate for use of diacriticals, particularly in Hawaiian bird names), and accordingly the BirdScope Summer 2011 centerfold followed the usage, though it's not formally Lab style yet. Note that anglicized variations on Hawaii, such as "Hawaiian" and "Hawaii's" should never take the diacritical even if it's used for "Hawai'i".
hawk watcher
hawk watching [n]
hawk-watching [adj]
hay field
home school [n, as in the place where one is homeschooled]
homeschool [v, as in "He homeschools his kids"]
homeschooler [n, as in the adult who homeschools, or the student who is homeschooled]
homeschooling [n, adj]
home-study [adj]
Home Study Course (Lab program)
hot spot (as in "birding hot spot")
House Finch Disease Survey


insect life [cf. birdlife]




Lab associate
the Lab
land-use [adj]
land use [n]
life cycle
life list
like [suffix] - following Chicago style, use without hyphen except where awkward

live stream, live streaming, live streamed, etc. (2 words, hyphenate as necessary)
Livestream (when referring to the company/brand)

Living Bird
log in [v]
login [adj, as in "what's your login name?"]
log out


Macaulay Library (ML) (includes video collection) Do not capitalize The in the middle of a sentence. Full official name is The Linda & William Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
marine autonomous recording unit (often referred to internally as MARU, but would be good to avoid this where possible. This term has previously been capitalized and some BRP folks may wish to continue capitalizing. In nontechnical publications the consensus is that the lowercased words adequately describe the device and there's little benefit in implying something different by capitalizing.)
marsh bird
Migratory Bird Treaty Act (of 1918)
mist net


The Nature Conservancy
Neotropical Birds Online (Italicize when referring to the publication. When making quick links or referrals online, use your judgment.)
nest boxes, not nestboxes
nest sites or nesting sites
NestWatch (Do not shorten to "NW.")
New York State

northern hardwood forest
nyjer seed


one million
one-week-old [adj]


page (not pg.)
pair bond
The Peregrine Fund
pop-up should always be hyphenated. Capitalize when referring to a specific one, such as "Pop-up 384." More precise, and preferred for technical reports, is in the first citation to call it a "Marine Autonomous Recording Unit (MARU)" and then use MARU after that.
prairie pothole region (lowercase)
Project FeederWatch (Use the entire name first in an article; after that, FeederWatch can be used. When space is at a premium, you can use PFW if the first use is "Project FeederWatch (PFW).")
Project PigeonWatch


radio transmitter (n)

Raven (For clarity, Raven Interactive Sound Analysis Software might be used first, and then Raven). Also Raven Pro, Raven Pro 1.4, Raven Lite, Raven Lite 1.0, Raven Exhibit, and Raven Viewer. For more information see orhttp://RavenSoundSoftware.com

the Redheads (the Lab's World Series of Birding student team)
riverbottom [adj]
Road, not Rd.


salt marsh
saltwater [adj]
salt water [n]
the Sapsuckers (the Lab's World Series of Birding team)
Scotch pine
sex role [n] sex-role [adj]
shallow-water [adj]
sign up [v]
sign-up [adj]
Southern California
Species of Special Concern (NTSDEC list)
spectrogram or sound spectrogram.

(Do not use spectrograph--that's an instrument that generates spectrograms, and virtually all natural sound spectrograms are now generated with software such as Raven, not a spectrograph. Also, spectrogram is preferable to sonagram to avoid confusion with medical images from ultrasound procedures.)

sphagnum moss
stick nest


tape-recorded [v or adj] (not tape recorded)
The Nature Conservancy
The Peregrine Fund
tree trunk


under-recorded (but underfed; close up unless verb begins with "r")
United States [n; cf U.S. = adj]
U.N. (United Nations)
Upstate New York
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
upside down [adv]
upside-down [adj]


visitor center


the Web
the West, West Coast

Western Hemisphere
while (duration; cf. whereas, although)
wing stripe
World Series of Birding
World War II
worldwide (Do not use "http://..." unless the URL is not a "www" address.)



Foreign place names
For country names, we use the accepted English version. As place names become more localized, there may not be an English version---for these, we use the local spelling with any diacritic marks. Other foreign words, with diacritic marks if they are part of the proper spelling, are italicized if they aren't used in everyday English.

Word pairs
The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage and Dictionary of Modern American Usage have many more examples---copies in Hugh's office.

Use "comprise" to mean "include." Use "compose" to mean "create" or "make up the whole." Example: The list comprises 24 species. Twenty-four species compose the genus.

Use "farther" to express distance; use "further" to express additional time, degree, or quantity.

Try not to begin sentences with "however" or "but," but don't force sentences into an awkward construction just to follow this rule.

When giving an example, use the phrase "such as," not "like." Ex: Large birds, such as ravens, are easy to spot.

Of course
Limit use of this expression.

Use "that" with restrictive clauses. Use "which" with nonrestrictive clauses (clauses that do not change the meaning of the basic sentence). (ex. "Birds that nest in cavities face problems due to starlings." BUT "Starlings, which nest in cavities, compete with native birds for nest sites.")

Use "while" to express duration only. Do not use it in place of "whereas" or "although."


Spell out one through nine; use numerals for 10 or more. Spell out approximations: "about twenty"; "two hundred or so." Exceptions: spell out numbers within dialog.

Use only numerals with percent, dimensions, and decimals (but not with distances under 10). When a sentence includes several numbers, some more than 10 and some less than 10, use numerals for all. For Library Auction, list volume number as it appears on book. This may result in a mix of Roman and Arabic numerals.

Examples: 1 percent; 23 percent; one million; 1.4 million; 74 million miles away; 74-million-mile trip [adj]; one degree Fahrenheit; 1 inch; 6 feet; 2" x 4 "; 10-foot fence; one-half; 1,000; 4,999; 10,000; 7-power binoculars [adj]; 7 power (as in "these binoculars are 7 power"); 4 pounds.

Inclusive numbers are separated by an en-dash. Use all the digits to list numbers less than 100; use all digits for 100-109 (or multiples thereof). Note: to make an en-dash, you can press <option><hyphen> (Macs) or <alt><hyphen> (PCs)

Examples that all require an en-dash: 12-13; 234-45; 1456-78; the years 1956-78.

16th century [n]; 16th-century [adj]; December 1984; December 1, 1984; winter 1984 (in text) BUT Winter 1984 (issue of Living Bird); 1970s and '80s; 1945-65 (en-dash required here). NOTE: set B.C. and A.D. in small caps. (If you can't, type them as "b.c." or "a.d." in lowercase, and the designers will reformat.)

Use numerals with A.M. and P.M. Set A.M. and P.M. in small caps. (NOTE: The designers will reformat "a.m." and "p.m." to small caps. Please type them in lowercase.)

Spell out numbers with "o'clock." (Eleven o'clock, BUT 11:00 A.M.)

Event Times for Print

7:00-10:30 a.m. Use when event is all before noon or after noon. Type in the colon and minutes after both numbers. Create the en-dash with key combo stroke <option><hyphen> (Macs) or <alt><hyphen> (PCs). Do not put a space between numbers and dash. Put a space after second number, then type lower case a.m. (no spaces). Our designers will format to small caps.

10:00 a.m.-noon Use when event starts or stops at noon. Type in lower case "a.m." and "noon." Our designers format to 10:00 A.M.-NOON (with small caps)

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Use when event crosses noon. Lower case a.m. and p.m. We format to 11:00 A.M.-1:00 P.M.

Use numerals (including 1-9) after a dollar sign. Spell out the number (including ten or more) with words for currency. Publications department prefers to use $, not "dollars."

Examples: $5; $450; five dollars; twenty dollars.

Spell out percent (such as 16 percent) in general publications. In scientific publications or where percentages are used frequently, use %.

Phone Numbers

(800) 843-2473

(800) 843-BIRD

Do not use both together. So don't use this: (800) 843-BIRD (2473)


mm, cm, m, km, ha; in, ft, mi, a: Use abbreviations only when preceded by a number.

Do not abbreviate units of time.

Do not abbreviate county.


Use s's for possessives.


Use a comma: between elements in a series of three or more; before the conjunction joining the last two elements in a series; between independent clauses unless the clauses are unusually short; to set off individual elements in dates, addresses, place names.
Example: Biologists at the hawkwatch counted 25 sharpies, 13 broadwings, and an Osprey.

Do not use a comma between subject and verb, or between two verbs referring to the same subject.
Examples: "I went bird watching and enjoyed myself," but "I went bird watching, and he stayed home."

Do not use a comma between season and year or month and year.
Example: Autumn 1993, September 1993 (but May 1, 1993). In text: winter 1984 BUT Winter 1984 (issue of Living Bird)

DO hyphenate compound adjectives. Example: The year-round presence of cardinals.

DO NOT hyphenate compound adverbs. Examples: Cardinals are present year round. I feel sorry for my chronically depressed dog.

Hyphenate color terms where both elements are of equal importance. Where one color modifies the other, do not hyphenate. Examples: blue-green algae; reddish brown fur.

Hyphen vs. En-dash vs. Em-dash

These are three different symbols: -, --, and ---. (Tragically, confluence doesn't show any of them properly.) To make an en-dash, use keystrokes <option><hyphen> on a Mac or <alt><hyphen> on a PC. To make an em-dash, use keystrokes <shift><option><hyphen> on a Mac, or <shift><alt><hyphen> on a PC. Microsoft Word usually auto-replaces two hyphens with an em-dash.

In print: Use a hyphen for compound adjectives. Use an en-dash between numerals to indicate a span of time, distance, etc. (examples: 1-9, 1:00-2:00 P.M., 3-5 feet). Use an em-dash as a punctuation dash. (Example: The Cuban Tody is pink, baby blue, and metallic green---a beautiful combination.)

Also use an em-dash before an author byline at the end of an article (example: ---Dave Barry).

Online: En-dashes and em-dashes sometimes turn up as hyphens in some online programs. Try to use hyphen and en-dash as for print. Rather than em-dash to serve as a dash, use an en-dash separated by spaces. (Example: The Cuban Tody is pink, baby blue, and metallic green -- it is quite possibly the most adorable bird in the universe.) Normally we would not put an author byline at the end of an online article, but in the cases where it might occur, use an em-dash before the name.

Do not capitalize the word following a colon unless it is the first word in a series of questions. If the colon is used within a sentence, even if what follows is a complete sentence, the first word following the colon is lowercase unless it's a proper noun.

Capitalize the common names of birds following the current AOU Check-list ( Examples: Song Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Western Tanager. Do not capitalize the common generic name when listing multiples: Magnolia and Yellow-rumped warblers, Western, Florida, and Island scrub-jays. [note: for hyphenated common names, AOU style typically uses lowercase after the hyphen unless the word following the hyphen refers to a kind of bird that this particular species is. Examples: Black-capped Vireo, Greater Sage-Grouse (is a grouse), Black-crowned Night-Heron (is a heron), Plain-breasted Ground-Dove (is a dove), Green-breasted Mountain-gem (it's a gem of a bird, but isn't a gem), Australian Brush-turkey (not related to turkeys).

Capitalize directional adjectives and nouns referring to specific, identifiable regions (Upstate New York, Southern California, the West), but not more general directional terms (eastern South America).

Bulleted Lists
(From Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, 6.127)
A vertical list is best introduced by a complete grammatical sentence, followed by a colon. Items carry no punctuation (including the last item in their examples) unless they consist of complete sentences. If the items are numbered, a period follows the numeral and each item begins with a capital letter.

Generic names

All generic epithets are capitalized and italicized, such as Empidonax flycatchers and Dendroica, with the following exceptions of words that have crossed over into general usage:



Bird vocalizations

Use italics without quotes. Ex. The Phainopepla's call is a soft wurp.


Refer to birds in the singular as much as possible. Ex. "A bird building its nest;" "the American Robin nests in suburban areas," not "robins nest in..."

Use reported in (not reported from) and absent in (not absent from)

"Altitude" and "elevation" are interchangeable

Foreign words and phrases
Place in italics (ex: The Painted Bunting is nicknamed the nonpareil) unless the word or phrase has come into general usage.

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Laura L. Erickson

This is really useful, Hugh. Thanks so much for putting it here.




May 16, 2008




Laura L. Erickson

I just added some terms from Merriam-Webster:

home school (noun, as in the place where one is homeschooled)
homeschool (verb, as in "He homeschools his kids")
homeschooler (noun, as in the adult who homeschools, or the student who is homeschooled)
homeschooling (noun, adj.)




Sep 10, 2008




Laura L. Erickson

"Nyjer seed" is now what it's called on packaging. This term has actually been trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry, but Project FeederWatch has made it a practice to spell it "nyjer seed" to avoid causing offense and to comply with industry standards--calling it "thistle" is inaccurate and would give some people pause because thistle is considered a noxious weed in many areas. Here's the link to the Wild Bird Feeding Industry's pdf about usage of the trademarked term:

For now, I defer to Dave Bonter's judgment and think we should just write it as nyjer seed.




Nov 03, 2008




Laura L. Erickson

I've made a bunch of additions and minor corrections to bring this in line with what I think are all our style sheets. Let me know if there should be any changes before we announce this Lab-wide.




Apr 09, 2009




Anne R. Hobbs

This is terrific, Laura, and I really appreciate your efforts as well as those who added to it. I realize in reading through the list that I've got to be more careful with words like birdhouse and landbirds. In face I made a "short list" of words I'd have to be careful of and almost all of them were "one word" words!

One quibble. I find "eyering" visually confusing. I know there was discussion about this but I'd like to put in a plug for "eye-ring". For someone who doesn't spent his or her time debating the finer points of editing, "my" version is much clearer.





Apr 24, 2009




Kevin James McGowan

Good to have this up here.

But why would you suggest Galápagos instead of Galapagos? We write in English and English uses no diacritical marks anymore. According to the guidelines, shouldn't it then be written Galápagos?





May 07, 2009




Laura L. Erickson

After a quick editorial conference, we agree. Thanks!




May 07, 2009




Jessie Barry

Why is it "water bird" not "waterbird" like we use songbird, shorebird, etc?




May 14, 2009




Laura L. Erickson

Because it was either mistyped or a carryover from an old style sheet. You're right that it should be "waterbird," and so I've just changed it. Thanks, Jessie!




May 14, 2009




Diane Louise Tessaglia-Hymes

I just noticed that our style for phone numbers puts the area code in parens--(607) 254-1234--but on our letterhead and business cards we do not put the parens around the area code: 607-254-1234. Pentagram felt we should use periods--607.254.1234--they said hyphens looked "ugly." I think periods look too confusing and trendy, but I do prefer NO parens around the area code. For most people who call us, the area code is an essential part of the phone number, and parens suggest optional information.

Your thoughts on this?




Jun 05, 2009




Patricia E Leonard

Question: I just reviewed this to get up-to-date, and see that it has marine autonomous recording unit with caps. Didn't we decide it should NOT carry caps?

Also: I could use some guidance on when (if ever) a period (or other punctuation) should go outside quotation marks rather than inside. I generally place them inside the quotation marks because I think it looks goofy to have it hanging off the end.






Aug 12, 2010

Hugh D. Powell

In general, punctuation inside quotation marks is American English; outside the quotes is standard in British English.

As always there are a few caveats, but they tend to make sense when you look at them. When a sentence that is a question ends with a quote, but the quote is not itself a question, then the question mark goes outside. Example sentence: Do you ever wonder who said "Give me liberty or give me death"?

In American English you almost never put a period outside the quotation marks. There are rare examples when you have to make a judgment call if the quoted material is very punctuation specific. So: She told me the address was "".

Colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks, even in American English. Commas go inside. The Chicago Manual of Style has more on this. Hope this helps - Hugh




Aug 17, 2010