Birders and ornithologists have an interest in describing things as accurately as possible. Whether it be giving directions to find a bird, or describe it, in order to get somebody’s help identifying it. A specific birding lingo or Birding Glossary exists for all that.
But our passion, our hobby, has seen us battle through most eccentric situations. Over time a pertinent, widely used birding jargon has been established and applied in the heat of the battles.
Those who mingled in birding circles for a while have stumbled over most of these expressions. Tough still, you might find some new ones here…
Folks new to birding or not so familiar with the English language might raise an eyebrow about many of these sometimes “encrypted” expressions.
The Birders Jargon
Some of the birder’s lingo is understood in all English spoken countries, others are strictly American or British.
- A Burndown
An organized search by a group of birders in order to seek a skulking (see skulker) species. Often results in the bird being flushed or pushed out of its hideout.
To get very high-quality photos of a bird. Also crush, hammer.
- Big Day
A birdwatching event in which birders try to see as many species of birds as possible within 24h. Colombia has been participating in recent Global Big Days, occupying the number one position in lists and birds in the world.
- Big Year
In a big year, a birder tries to see as many species of birds as possible within a defined area in 365 days. The movie The Big Year was inspired by this.
In Australia, it refers to already seen or common birds.
- Cosmic mind f*****/ or blower, if you prefer
See Mega, for explanations
A rare or beautiful species whose appearance leaves you crippled. Similar league to the one above, but not quite.
The guy from “The Big Lebowski” is famous. But such a birder is a guy who has just about no clue what he’s doing (identifying, photographing, etc.), though he might be geared up and act like a pro…
The worst part about twitching (and birding in general), see below. Missing the bird, you specifically went looking for. There are some people born under a bad sign and constantly miss their targets. These are called Dippers, like the birds. Well, it’s all part of the game.
- Duff gen
Getting first-hand (often secret, suppressed) information about the whereabouts of a rare bird, and information about the access to remote, restricted areas where birds occur. A term used in hard-core British birding circles
The first record of a species in a place.
Get only a very brief, often unsatisfying view of a bird
- Gripping off
Making birders jealous with stories of good birds you’ve to see and that you know, they haven’t but they would love to see! Understand? There are some (funny, incredible) stories of people who went on a Twitch (see later) together, and one person has seen the bird and the other one dipped! (remember?). Now, the one person who’s seen it describes other people who good the observation was, in the presence of the other one who hasn’t seen it…
The general appearance of a species, genus, family taking into consideration its size, shape, and behavior. Subjective, of course, but very useful and real for bird ID. Species are identified by their Jizz alone. Think of Flamingo
- LBJs/LGB (little brown jobs, little green birds)
No community or sandwich, but notoriously difficult to identify groups of birds of the corresponding colors (i.e. Sparrows, Tyrant-Flycatchers). By the way, contrary to public opinion that all Neotropical birds are colorful, the great majority of avian diversity here constitutes of LBJs & LGBs. Better learn them!
The first-time observation of a bird species
A list of all species seen by a particular observer
A birdwatcher who competes to amass longer lists than their rivals. This birder is intensely focused on keeping and growing lists.
A very rare bird in any area. A bird you’ve always been dreaming to see. So badly. There’s only one better thing than that. The one that really blows your mind. And that’s the first one on this list, remember?
And yes, there’s been some tragedies too, in order to get such one…
- Nemesis bird
A bird that always eluded you seeing it. No matter how many times you’ve been looking for. Rare or common.
- Patagonia Picnic Table Effect
A phenomenon that occurs when one rare bird draws a bevy of birders to an area, resulting in more interesting species being discovered in the same locale.
A birding location or set of birding locations that a birder visits frequently.
No show but small, difficult to identify waders of the Calidris-genus are collectively referred to, as peeps
Hissing sounds made by birders with their tongue, lips, other parts of the body(!), and other aids, in order to coax a “skulker”, see next, out into view. It works! Sometimes….
A cryptic species pair on a day list.
A cryptic, notoriously difficult bird to see. Often hiding in the thickest vegetation. Resistant to Pishing
- Spark bird
A species that trigger a lifelong passion for birding.
Birds that are only identifiable to genus level on a day list.
A birder who purposely invents sightings of mostly rare birds (or incredibly big numbers), in order to draw attention in the birding scene. But hey, be very careful with your reputation. Mark Obmascik in the famous birding essay “The big year” wrote: Losing credibility is like losing virginity. You lose it only once.
A new bird added to whatever list
- Trash Bird
Of course, there’s no such thing. Referred here, to some extremely common and widespread birds in any given area.
Birders who travel instantly to see a specific bird to add to lists (local, country, world). For many it has become an obsession. Much competition, grief, stringing going on… You hope to grip people off, never dip!! Often more about collecting than watching.
- Warbler Neck
A painful spasm in the neck from looking at birds, like warblers, which are often found in the tops of trees.
Last but not least:
- SOB (spouse of a birder)
A person who has had the misfortune of putting up with all that
Some species have nicknames. Twitchers (and birders in general) will also use a mixture of scientific and slang terms for feather tracts and so on.
About the authors
Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also travelled many countries, starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.
Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.