Code names

Assigning code names to bird species sounds like a good idea. Code names are a sort of short hand that can save space in field and lab notebooks, and facilitate using computers to analyze data.

To be helpful, codes names should be easy to remember and unique for each species being considered. For example, a field researcher working in North America doesn’t need distinct codes for penguins. But a lab researcher in North America might need distinct codes for penguins.

Of course, there is more than one way to assign a code name for a bird species. Here are some of the code names that have been assigned to the California condor.

(Source details follow the text and are ordered as in the text.)

Vincent assigned the code B/31/GYMNO/CAL. Presumably, the letter B indicates a bird. The number 31 stands for the family Cathartidae or New World vultures. The rest of the code is short hand for the California condor’s scientific name Gymnogyps californianus.

01a Edwards 1974 - title page

In his book of codes for birds, Edwards indicates orders by a letter or letters. Within each order, families are indicated by numbers. Within each family, species are identified by numbers. Then the code name is the family number, order letter, and species number.

So, for the California condor, the code is simply 1K6:

01b Edwards 1974 - text

The “HN” above indicates the habitat of the California condor as North America (Nearctic). (The various marks on the text were there when I acquired this book.)

The U.S. government’s Bird Banding Laboratory assigned the code name CALC.

In a detailed article about code names for bird species, Jones gave 5 rules for assigning codes. By these rules, the California condor is CACO. But the author notes that the rules sometimes yield the same code for different birds, in which case, the codes are adjusted. I have not explored this further to see whether or not CACO is, in fact, Jones’s code name for the condor.

Pyle and DeSante took Jones’s work a step further. They provide rules that definitely yield the 4-letter code name CACO for the California condor. They also give rules for assigning 6-letter code names based on scientific names. The latter yield GYMCAL.

Bowman also created a system for assigning 6-letter codes but based on vernacular names. These rules yield the code name CALCON for the California condor.

Anyone have any better ideas for code names for bird species? Or, how about one “best” idea?

Vincent, Jack. Red data book. International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 1966.

Edwards, Ernest Preston. A coded list of birds of the world. Edwards. 1974.

Bird Banding Laboratory. Steps to improve schedule processing. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988.

Jones, Lee. A simple four-letter code for the birds of North America. Birding. December 1992.

Pyle, Peter, and David F DeSante. Four-letter and six-letter alpha codes for birds recorded from the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-List area. North American Bird Bander. April-June 2003.

Bowman, Bruce M. List of codes and rules for constructing abbreviations of bird species names: a six-letter code system. University of Michigan. 2010.