Guidelines for Account Content

Birds of the World (BOW) accounts are intended to provide comprehensive, up-to-date summaries of the known biology of all birds. The taxonomy of this series follows eBird/Clements, and closely matches the North American and South American Classification and Nomenclature Committees of the American Ornithological Society.

These accounts should be written so as to stimulate new studies by indicating gaps in our present knowledge of species. In other words, BOW accounts should be “one-stop shopping” for individuals who are seeking a summary of what we know – and don’t know – about a species’ biology, and where to go for further details (i.e., through the references cited). Accounts are geared towards ornithologists and those with advanced interests in bird biology. As a result, they should also prove useful to wildlife biologists, scientists in other disciplines who study birds, avocational enthusiasts interested in avian ecology and behavior, biology teachers and students, land managers, and researchers who assess environmental impacts, among others.

Authors should aim to provide a critically compiled, accurate, and concise summary of present biological knowledge (and ignorance) of a species. Updated sections of accounts should be built upon sound, established published data and interpretations of those data, supplemented with new, unpublished data when available. Authors should summarize key observations, findings, and conclusions from new (and newly found studies). While lesser findings in publications may not be covered in any detail, authors can alert readers to the existence of these findings (“Smith (2014) also provided information on…”) so readers can seek such material on their own if desired.

In some cases, authors will come across published summaries or reviews of some aspect of the biology of their species, e.g., diet, vocalizations, etc. Whenever possible, authors should summarize key aspects and details of these reviews and not simply point the reader to another source. In most situations, authors should take it upon themselves to conduct their own independent review of studies that have been summarized and cite the original studies in their account. Note, all text must be original; authors should be careful to avoid plagiarizing other’s work.

BOW is generally not a venue for proposing new ideas; such ideas ought to appear and be judged first in the primary literature. However, as previously noted, authors should highlight gaps in our knowledge. This includes not only pointing out data that are lacking, but also raising as yet unanswered questions such as unexplained structures and habits, or deficient comparisons with related species. For topics about which little is known with certainty, authors can state a probability, but this must be based on evidence; guessing should be avoided. Make a special effort to report (or indicate ignorance about) habits and habitats used during the nonbreeding period, particularly for species that migrate to regions that are less well known. Try to relate different aspects of the species’ life history to each other, thereby characterizing the species’ distinctive qualities. Providing current and in-depth information, references, and research questions should be a powerful stimulus for new studies.

The revision should strive to be both readable and useful. Since BOW revisions are no longer printed documents, there is no need to use the very concise, telegraphic language (and word abbreviations) necessary in the original BOW species accounts. Although there are exceptions, authors should use complete sentences and think about flow, readability, and the best ways to convey the information. BOW will continue to use the scientific/technical language required to discuss ornithological information but please avoid being overly wordy and convey the information succinctly. If there is a need to summarize highly detailed information, the text can be abbreviated and use incomplete sentences to be more efficient (e.g., paragraphs with extensive details or summary statistics, such as descriptions of plumage, molt, and biometrics on the Appearance page).

We encourage authors to think about ways to enliven the text of their accounts, especially in the Introduction of the account. This may include incorporating historical and/or influential quotes, discussing the cultural significance of their species, and/or brief amusing anecdotes, etc.

Sources of information

Plan to search widely for information to complete the revision. This includes reviewing not only recently published studies but also older publications, including those from the early 1900s and even before. Older literature may have been difficult to identify or access when the original accounts were written but, fortunately, is now available online. Older publications often contain information on a species’ natural history of a kind that is rarely published these days. Such information can be invaluable in the present day in designing studies and interpreting results. Excellent places to find citations to, and PDFs of, older publications include Google Scholar: and SORA:

Be sure to conduct searches using earlier versions of the species’ common and scientific names. More and more, online searches will turn up accessible copies of older publications, e.g., at sites like Biodiversity Heritage Library: More recent publications can be identified using databases such as Scopus and Web of Science. If authors are unable to find a resource online, either BOW staff or the interlibrary loan specialists at an author’s home institution may be able to locate it. Such librarians can be remarkably helpful and should, of course, be included in the acknowledgements.

Sources of information should include all the published literature including not only peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals but also books, book chapters, unpublished theses and dissertations (increasingly available online), and state, provincial, and federal government reports. Take special care to include sources from outside North America, particularly for species that were originally included in BNA accounts, as older international literature may be absent from these accounts due to their prior geographic focus. Whenever possible, cite primary (original) references rather than secondary ones.

For certain sections of the account, authors will also want to include information from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, eBird, and Christmas Bird Count. Authors should also examine field guides and other “Birds of…” type books specific to states, provinces and regions, and especially most recent editions of state and provincial breeding bird atlases, many of which are available online. Nest record card databases can also be a source of information. In some situations, an examination of museum specimens can be helpful in completing certain parts of the account.

Authors are welcome to include their own unpublished data in the account. When doing so, authors should provide readers with some information on how the data were collected, as there is no original source publication to turn to for this information. Include results of statistical analyses of these data where appropriate.

Authors can seek additional unpublished data from researchers who have also studied their species but be sure to credit them appropriately. Authors should inform them that including data in a BOW species account does not preclude publishing these data elsewhere at a later date. The same is true, of course, of an author’s own data. However, immediately after publication of data from an account elsewhere, the relevant parts of the species account should be rewritten in a manner that treats the new publication as the source of data/information, just as would be done with any other external publication.

Account structure and organization

When published, BOW accounts will appear in one of two layouts; a vertically stacked layout most similar to the original layout of HBW accounts, or an expanded layout most similar to the original layout of BNA accounts. During a revision, you will have all sections available to you (as per the expanded layout); whether or not you choose to populate these sections. Any sections that do not have content will not be shown when the revision publishes. When a revision is ready to publish, editors will decide if the account contains enough information to be displayed in the expanded format. The goal is to have all BOW species converted to the expanded layout as information is populated.

Expanded BOW accounts are partitioned into pages by subject matter. The order of these pages is standard across all species (see below): following an INTRODUCTION page there is a page on APPEARANCE, then SYSTEMATICS, DISTRIBUTION, MIGRATION, HABITAT, etc.

Within each page there are a number of potential “sections.” For example, within the page on SYSTEMATICS, there are sections on Geographic Variation, Subspecies, and Related Species.

Within sections, there can be a number of designated “subsections,” each with its own heading. For example, within the Eggs section on the BREEDING page, two common subsections that are typically treated separately are Shape and Size.

The order of standard account pages, sections, and subsections appears in Standard Account Pages, Sections, and Subsections. Guidance for the appropriate content for each page and section appears in Descriptions of Account Pages, Sections, and Subsections.

BOW strives to maintain consistency from account to account in content and organization as much as possible. Many researchers use these accounts to do comparative studies between species (e.g., molt patterns, types of food eaten, nest structure, egg size, natal philopatry, etc.) and, as such, they search for specific information in the same location within a series of accounts. As a result, authors should follow the guidelines of Standard Account Pages, Sections, and Subsections and Descriptions of Account Pages, Sections, and Subsections as closely as possible.

We recognize, however, that the biology of birds varies greatly from species to species. As such, there needs to be flexibility in the content of accounts. Exclusion of certain subsections is expected for some species (e.g., there would be no “Timing and Routes of Migration” subsection for a permanent resident species). Likewise, in some cases, there is content that was not included in original BNA accounts that is now standard in BOW revisions. Please let BOW editors know if there are any pages, sections, or subsections that you feel are missing from your account and we will add them.

The editors will also consider the addition of certain subsections within sections. Authors are asked, however, to contact the editor before adding additional subsections. The editors may request that the proposed material be positioned differently within the account to maintain consistency with recently published accounts. The order of standard subsections, as shown in Standard Account Pages, Sections, and Subsections, should be retained, even if author-created subsections are interspersed among them. Although rarely done, it is possible to add a new section to a page. If interested, please contact the editors.

Please note, any content imported from HBW is automatically added to the “Introduction” section of each page. This content should be parsed out into other sections and subsections, as appropriate, unless you feel the introductory section offers some new perspective to the page. Any sections without content can be hidden when the revision is published

Grammar, punctuation, style, and formatting

Older accounts were written in a telegraphic style, and some sections (such as Plumages, Molts, Bare Parts, Measurements) still call for a telegraphic presentation. With the transition to online publishing, there are no specific word limits or limits on the number of references used. Nonetheless, authors should strive to be clear and concise and use complete sentences wherever possible.

Authors should aim to spell out words and abbreviate less (e.g., spell out months, states, provinces). That said, if a longer word or term is heavily in a section it can become cumbersome for the reader. In such cases, terms should be defined at first use within a section, and again when first used in another section. The same applies to scientific names. The main exception are measurements and statistics (m, km, min, yr, SD, P, C.I., etc.) for which we use standard abbreviations and do not define.

Please spell-check the manuscript as much as possible. Refer to Grammar, Punctuation, Style, and Formatting Conventions for an extensive list of grammar, punctuation, style, and formatting conventions.

Citations and references

Published BOW accounts follow a numbered reference system, in which citations are represented by numbers in parentheses in the appropriate place in the text. Authors are expected to go through and add linked citations to the text (see Step 5: Linking and Adding References). Once a citation is linked within a section of an account, our system will automatically assign it a number, and the reference will automatically appear on the References page in the order it appears cited in the text (or alphabetically, by option). Thus, there is no need for cross checking the citations in the text against the Reference page.

When citing in the account text, please insert citations in parentheses and in chronological order with a comma and a space inserted between references; e.g., (Pyle 2017) and (Anderson et al. 2009, Smith 2014, Pyle 2017). Generally, citing at the end of the sentence is preferred, unless the aim is to highlight the work of a particular author(s). Additional conventions regarding citations are as follows:

  •     When citing observations/data of BOW account authors, use author initials:

o   (JGB) or (AHB, unpublished data) or (JGB and AHB, unpublished data)

  •     For unpublished citations of others, please cite as:

o   (J. Smith, personal communication) or (J. Smith, unpublished data)

  •     When citing observations/data from a previous version of a BOW account from an individual who is no longer an author, cite the previous version of the account and clearly credit the individual:

o   R. E. Anderson found … (Jones et al. 1997)

  •     Citing articles as “in press” is acceptable, and these should be added as a new reference in the database. Please email us the full citation details once the paper has been published.

o   (Smith, in press) or (Smith et al., in press)

  •     Note: Manuscripts “in prep,” “in review,” or “Submitted” should be cited in account text as “unpublished data” and should not be added to the reference database.

Please see Format for References for further details and examples of reference formatting.