• Terry Grabill


I’ve noticed that every particular profession or interest carries along its own language. Being a educator, I can speak teacher jargon pretty fluently. Being married to an educator, Andrea does a pretty good job of understanding most of the unusual words and acronyms I throw out there. Andrea’s profession of pharmacy also comes with some unique phrases that I can at least understand (BID is not only an auction term!)

Birding also has a colorful set of phrases that only birders will understand. Listening to a group of birders discussing the morning’s birding can sound a bit like a foreign language…or the babbling of a group of lunatics. So, in an attempt to explain that I’m not a lunatic (shhhh…), I’ve put together a short glossary of birding terms. I invite readers to submit terms that should be added in the comments.

DISCLAIMER: This is an attempt at education AND humor. It's meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I appreciate ALL that are interested in birds and my writing. I mean no offense to any reader.

Backyard birder: one who enjoys observing birds near their home, often at bird feeders.

Big Year: a competition where a birder lists all the birds they’ve seen in a calendar year. Or, an example of cinematic art.

Bins: binoculars

Bird: noun: an animal with feathers.

verb: to seek birds

Birder: one who birds.

Birding: to engage in the seeking of birds

Birding Festival: an event held in an important birding area where birders meet to celebrate their obsession.

Bird Photographers: people with cameras and HUGE lenses that often travel in herds seen grouped in mobs in front of a tiny migrant warbler.

Birdwatching: watching birds do stuff. NOT synonymous with birding

Chase: to drop everything and travel to the site of a rare bird sighting in the attempt to grow one’s list…or to dip in the attempt

Chaseable bird: a very cooperative (or completely lost) rare bird that the obsessed (see lister and chaser) has a reasonable chance of observing. May not require retirement of unemployment to see.

Chaser: a birder that can drop everything to drive across the state to look at a rare bird. Usually retired or unemployed.

Coffee: birder fuel

Cooper’s vs Sharp-shinned: the great hawk debate on like, every Facebook birding group

Dip: to spend hours and dollars travelling to the site of a rare bird sighting…only to have missed it by five minutes. To NOT find the bird you were looking for.

Empids: a group of small, VERY similar flycatcher species. Often only distinguished by vocalization.

Female Red-winged blackbird: easily the most mis-identified bird.

Field Guide: the leader of a birding expedition (expert birder) or a print guide to identifying birds.

FOY: first of the year. The first bird of that species that you've recorded this year.

Giss: (pronounced jizz) Bird identification by General Impressions of Shape and Size (and, perhaps sound) Birders who spend a ridiculous amount to time afield can often birds out of the corner of their eye by the way is moves, its shape, its size, or by its song.

Irruption; an event when some Canadian species move south to the warmth of Minnesota and Northern Michigan for winter. (eh!).

Life bird: a species of bird one has observed for the first time. Cause for celebration with birder fuel and pie.

Life list: a list of all the birds one has observed in the wild in one’s lifetime.

List: noun: an organized account of the species of bird the birder has observed.

verb. To keep a documentation of one’s bird observations.

Lister: an obsessed birder that has accounts of his/her bird observations is several forms and for many different time periods and geographical areas.

Listing: to engage in the documentation of one’s observed birds.

LBJ: Little brown job, usually in reference to an unidentified sparrow

Nemesis bird: THAT bird that you just can’t seem to tick.

Patch: your local area. The birding area where you bird the most. You ARE the expert in the seasonal variations of species there.

Peep: a group of species of confusing small sandpipers. They can be very difficult to identify correctly.

Pelagic: A birding trip aboard a boat in search of open-water birds such as Albatross

Pishing: making strange hissing or kissing sounds meant to call birds out into the open.

Port-a-potty: Very rare, especially when one has consumed too much birder fuel.

Rare bird: a bird that is found somewhere that is unusual for it.

Sea Gull: a mythical creature many non-birders swear to have seen, often in fast-food parking lots feeding on spilled French fries.

Spark Bird: the gateway bird (“I won’t let myself get hooked”…too late!) the bird that sparked your interest in birds.

Spring migration: a time of many sick days and personal-time-off to marvel at the birds migrating north. A time to grow one’s year list.

Tick: a record of a first observation of a species. A county tick would be the first time you’ve seen that species in a particular county. OR, a small arachnid that will burrow its head into your skin and suck blood and generally make you afraid to step into a grassland no matter how many birds await there.

Twitch: (UK) (see chase). alternatively, the involuntary response to hearing the word Seagull or being referred to as a birdwatcher.

Red-tailed hawk: like, every hawk you see and are stumped by.

Warbler neck: stabbing muscle pains in one’s neck from excessive time spent looking directly up into trees staring at warblers’ butts.

Water feature: a birdbath

Year bird: a bird one has observed for the first time this year. Yes, a new list every year. Did I mention obsessed? (see Lister) (see tick)