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Introducing the Birder Jargon Project

July 6, 2011
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Birders have a language, a dialect maybe, that’s really only immediately comprehensible to other birders.  We’re all aware of it.  We talk about it often amongst ourselves, in the self-deprecating manner of those who realize that their avocation is seen as quirky among the general public.  We nurture it, adding regional nicknames for birds and bird behavior to the greater birder dictionary for those to use beyond our circle of friends and colleagues.  And we all remember how difficult it was to get those bits of birder jargon into our heads when we first picked up binoculars.

It has to be said, birding is an exceptionally beginner friendly hobby.  Birders, by and large, have earned a reputation as being open, kind, and more than willing to pass on their accumulated knowledge to those who have only recently developed “the bug”.  But too often the birds you find on bird walks don’t appear to have the same names as listed in the field guides and there’s no place in the wide world to find them.  And how about that terminology employed by birders, zooties and grippers and blockers.  Where are you supposed to learn about those?

Into this breach comes a new project at The Drinking Bird.  An attempt to catalog the range of birder vocabulary for prosperity.  Every week, assuming a new life bird doesn’t take precedence, I’ll take on one or more of these little bits of birder esoterica, to explain their etymology, to put them in context, and to offer the explanation that every beginning, or expert, birder needs to arm themselves for the field, even if the only birder using certain names is me (I love ‘em, much to the chagrin of those who go on my birdwalks, perhaps) Fear not the barrage of Hoodies, Woodies, and Traill’s.  Worry no more over Timberdoodles and Shoulders.  The Drinking Bird is here to help.

I’ll jump into the fray next week, but to get us going, what are your favorite bird nicknames or otherwise birder-specific vernacular?

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10 Comments
  1. July 6, 2011 8:50 am

    Brilliant idea, Nate. Will come back with good words later.

  2. July 6, 2011 11:43 am

    Giss (and alternate spellings) gave me quite a start when I first heard it in a birding context. I guess I grew up in a different day and age than some of the more veteran birders who use it a little more freely, lol.

  3. Harrier permalink
    July 6, 2011 1:42 pm

    I almost told a beginner birder today that the hawk was a “Swain,” and then I realized she would have no idea what that meant. Sharpies and Coops, Gos, Cordies (Cordilleran flycatcher), HOLAs and AMROs, and so many more… This is a great project, the Birder’s Dictionary! Don’t forget the classic, “What are those swallows up there?” “Trees.”

  4. July 6, 2011 1:52 pm

    Good idea, Nate. I think the jargon can truly be a door-closer for people looking to get into the hobby, or any hobby for that matter. On my beginner walks, I try very hard to not use any of it, but I do note the nicknames like Sharpie, Coop, etc. so the beginners to to learn them.

  5. July 6, 2011 4:56 pm

    Fun idea, are you doing this project for posterity or prosperity though? Either way, could you convince people that ‘birding by impression’ sounds way better than GISS. When I hear someone use that word, I cringe and all the non-birders around snicker. Not a good way to convince people we aren’t total weirdos. :)

  6. Nate permalink*
    July 6, 2011 6:57 pm

    @Corey- Thanks for you help!

    @Giss is… a weird one. I’ll have to tackle it at some point.

    @Harrier- Thanks! This should be fun.

    @Patrick- Too true. I’m terrible about using them too often, I admit. But their fun to pepper your language with if everyone is on the same page.

    @Andrew- Oh, posterity for sure. Very little on the internet leads to prosperity. :)

  7. July 6, 2011 9:38 pm

    There’s the concept of a “good bird,” which sounds a little weird at first even though it’s pretty intuitive. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “bad bird,” though there are “trash birds.” (Sometimes literally!) As a bander, I’ve often heard common buteos distinguished as “tails” and “shoulders”; I don’t think I’ve heard any referred to as “broads,” though. “P-bird” is another bander term – somehow a single-letter designation doesn’t extend to its other two common congenerics in bander slang.

    I agree on GISS – it’s a useful method for bird identification with unfortunate terminology.

    Then there are other terms like sands, peeps, semis, uppies, grasspipers, and empids, as well as seemingly randomly truncated names like “least sand” or “willow fly.”

  8. Dan Liles permalink
    July 7, 2011 8:47 am

    I’ve noticed you have referenced Chikamice in the blog a couple of times. I’m hoping that one will be included in the new dictionary.

  9. July 12, 2011 7:01 am

    Fortunately for beginners, most birder jargon is pretty easy to pick up from context–my first exposure to most of the terms other commenters have noted occurred when a more experienced birder was pointing at and talking about the “coopie” or “empid” in question.

    My running joke is that you know you’ve been birding too much when you start describing paint chips as “glaucous” and “rufous”!

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