So you’ve just begun your journey into the exciting world of birding, and you’ve been out on a few adventures on your own. Feeling a bit more confident and wanting to connect with your local birding community, you decide to attend a birding event—but you start hearing terms like “lifer,” “trash bird,” and “LBJ.” All of the sudden, your confidence flies away faster than a “nemesis bird” while your back is turned.
Not to worry! Every hobby has its own lingo, and birding is no different. Some words are self-explanatory, some a little more unique, and some are downright bizarre (what the hell is a “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect“?). So we’ve built this handy glossary of terms to help. While it might not help make you a successful birder, it’ll at least help you sound like one…
Big Day (n)
An event in which a birder or team of birders sets out to witness as many species as possible within a calendar day.
– I’m hoping to see at least 20 different species during this Big Day.
Big Year (n)
An event in which a birder sets out to witness as many species as possible within a defined area (county, state, ABA area) within a calendar year; originated with the American Birding Association.
– In 2016, ABA record holder John Weigel had quite the Big Year, setting the record with a species count of 835.
Abbreviation for binoculars.
– I’ve got my field guide, plenty of water and snacks, and my bins—let’s get out there and see some birds!
A rare bird whose presence leaves you crippled—whether by its extreme rarity or sheer beauty—and unable to move on.
– The Kirtland Warbler was such a crippler I had a hard time thinking about any other birds on the trip.
To miss out on seeing a common bird, a bird you really wanted to see, or a rare bird everyone else saw but you missed.
– Every time I come to this spot, I dip on the Belted Kingfisher and go home frustrated!
Slightly pejorative term for a novice birder or someone who seeks birds mainly for photography rather than study.
– This trip is full of a bunch of dudes just trying to get a good Instagram photo.
GISS (often spelled phonetically as j-i-z-z) (n)
Generally accepted as originating from the WWII plane-identifying acronym GISS—General Impression Shape and Size—experienced birders can often identify birds by their overall impression of the general shape, movement, behavior, etc., of a species rather than any particular feature.
– I didn’t get a good look at it, but it definitely had the giss of a thrush.
To get very high-quality photos of a bird. Also: crush.
– I hammered a ton of photos of that Osprey that lives on campus this weekend!
A classification for the small, drab songbirds that are difficult to distinguish.
– I went looking for cardinals, but all I came across were a ton of LBJs.
The first-time sighting of a bird for an individual.
– The Altamira Oriole I saw on my trip to Mexico was an unexpected lifer.
A very rare bird.
– I went to New Zealand in hopes of finding a mega like the Kakapo.
Sighting a very rare bird—not just rare for the individual but rare in birding in general.
– I couldn’t believe the megatick I got on my trip to New Zealand when I actually saw a Kakapo.
A particular species that constantly eludes an individual birder.
– No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to catch a glimpse of a Hermit Warbler—truly my nemesis bird!
A birding location (or set of locations) that a birder visits frequently.
– My friend from the forums happened to be in my hometown, so I took him to my local patch to give him a tour of our birds.
The phenomenon that occurs when a rare bird causes several birders to flock to a site, resulting in more interesting species being spotted in that same area.
– After Sarah posted a picture of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in South Texas, birders jumped at the chance, resulting in a Patagonia Picnic Table Effect and a rare Green Jay sighting.
Relating to the open sea. In birding terms, it describes open-ocean species like the albatross.
– Always drawn to the sea, I organized a boat tour to seek out a few pelagic species to tick.
A specific sound (pishhh) made in an attempt to induce mobbing behavior and draw songbirds out into the open—mimics the alarm calls of chickadees and titmice.
– We weren’t having any luck on our chickadee trip until Larry pished and a whole flock of them rushed out.
Siesta Time (n)
The time of day, around midday, when birds are the least active.
– We hit traffic on the way to the park, and by the time we got there, it was siesta time and no birds were in sight.
Acronym for “Spouse of Birder”; someone who is married to or involved with a birder but is not a birder themselves.
– Steve is a supportive SOB, agreeing to honeymoon in New Zealand so Sharon can tick all the wonderful native birds the islands offer.
Sp. / Spp.
Abbreviation for species—sp. (singular); spp. (plural)
Spark Bird (n)
The particular species that sparks a lifelong passion for birding.
– I wasn’t sure if birding was for me, but then I saw my spark bird, a gorgeous Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and I was hooked.
Intentionally misleading others about the presence of a bird.
– Jealous that he had dipped on the Purple Gallinule, Bryce attempted to string us with a suspicious “sighting” of a Limpkin.
A reporting of a bird that draws skepticism.
– Bryce claimed to have seen a Limpkin, but it seemed a bit stringy to me.
A person who frequently and intentionally misleads others about sightings (as opposed to well-intentioned mistakes due to lack of knowledge or experience).
– Don’t listen to Bryce; he’s a notorious stringer.
A new bird added to an individual’s list—like ticking a bird off your list.
– On my trip to California, I was finally able to tick the Yellow-billed Magpie.
A bird that is so common to an area that it becomes annoying.
– I’ve not seen any bird I came to see, but there were plenty of trash birds just taunting me with their abundance.
To travel long distances to seek out a particular bird, often a rare bird. People who do this often are called twitchers.
– After retiring, Bob started to twitch for some of the rare species that had eluded him over the years.
A bird that has strayed a far distance from its normal ecological range.
– Everyone thought my Social Flycatcher sighting in Los Angeles was stringy, but the photo confirmed it was a vagrant.
Warbler Neck (n)
Similar to “Taco Neck,” warbler neck is a pain or crick in the neck caused by an extended time looking for birds high up in trees.
– I had a difficult time sleeping last night thanks to the warbler neck I got trying to find a Hermit Warbler—again.