Bird Terminology

Birds of North America


accipitor, accipitors, hawks, birds of prey -ABA....The American Birding Association.
-ABC....The American Bird Conservancy.
-airfoil....Wing-shaped with curve on top rather than beneath.
-accipiter....Refers to a certain group of hawks, including the Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk, along with the Northern Goshawk.
-aerie....A nest built on the wall or side of a cliff by a raptor.
-aery....See "Aerie".
-air sac....Any of a system of cavities in a bird's body, which forms part of the respiratory system.
-alar bar....A contrasting line running on the front edge of the mid-wing section to the bird's body.
-albinism....Occasional and erratic occurrence of white plumage, seen partial or complete in non-white plumage birds, caused by colouring deficiency in the feathers.
-albino....See "Leucistic".
-alternate plumage....See breeding plumage.
-altricial....Condition describing certain young birds when hatched, that have no feathers, eyes are closed and totally dependant on their parents.
-anhedral....Downward curve of a bird's wing in flight. ie. Turkey Vulture.
-alula....Feathers attached to the thumb or pollex, located mid-wing area.
-amniotic....A modern egg's shell having a waterproof membrane.
-AOU....The American Ornithologists' Union.
-archaeopteryx....First fossilized bird known to exist.
-arboreal....A tree dwelling bird.
-aerial insectivores....Bird species who feed on insects while flying.
-auriculars....Ear coverts or ear patches.
-avian....Pertaining to birds.
-axillars....Feathers located at the underside base of a bird's wing.
-axillaries....See "Axillars".


accipitor, accipitors, hawks, birds of prey -basic plumage....Plumage attained by the prebasic molt.
-bars....Rows of distinctly coloured feathers running across the bird's body.
-barbs....Are the rows of strands making up a feather.
-basal....Refers to outer edges of a bill or the outer primaries.
-beak....Is the upper and lower mandibles of a bird.
-beard....Line of feathers hanging from a male turkey's breast.
-bib....Coloured region seen below the chin of the bird.
-bill....See "Beak".
-bird taxonomy....The science of the classification of birds into orders, families, genera, species, etc.
-beaching....Lightening of the plumage colours, caused by exposure to sunlight.
-breast....Area of a bird located between the chin and the belly.
-breeding plumage.....Usually the more colourful plumage seen on an individual adult bird during before and after nesting season, also known as alternate plumage.
-brood....Offspring of birds and fowls.
-brood parasite....Species of birds who deposit their eggs in the nest of other birds, to be fed and raised by other families.


accipitor, accipitors, hawks, birds of prey -calidridine.....Group of closely related sandpipers, primarily, but not exclusively of the same genus Calidris.
-carina....Or keel, is the projection of the breastbone.
-caruncle....Small fleshly comb-like, seen on a turkey's forehead.
-CBC....Christmas Bird Count.
-cere....Is a wax-like swelling about the base of the upper mandible containing the nostrils, found mostly in birds of prey, pigeons and parrots.
-chick....Name given to fledglings of certain bird species.
-classification....Domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.
-cline....A species of birds, that is spread out over a large distance, to a point, where birds at one end will not associate with the others.
-cloaca....Bird's aperture through which eggs, sperm, excrement all exit.
-clutch....Refers to all the eggs in a nest belonging to the female bird.
-cob....Name given to male swan.
-cock....Name given to certain male bird species.
-colonial....Describes birds of the same species who build multi-nests in colonies.
-comb....Fleshly skin seen on birds crown, i.e. roosters.
-congeners....Distinct bird species that are related to one another by being in the same genus.
-conspecific....Birds that are members of the same species.
-contour feathers....these feathers cover most of a bird, not including the flight feathers.
-cooperative breeding....More than two birds from the same species feeding young birds from one nest.
-countersinging....Singing of one bird in direct response to another bird singing among the same bird species.
-coverts....Or "tectrices" are the smaller feathers covering the bird's wings.
-creche....A gathering of hatchlings in a nesting colony, tended to by different adult birds.
-crepuscular....Birds that are active at twilight hours.
-crest....Feathers located on the crown of a bird's head that are able to be raised to form a peak.
-crissum....See "Undertail coverts".
-crop....An area where food is stored in the esophagus to be digested at a later time.
-crown....Or cap, is the top area of a bird's head.
-cryptic....Term used to describe a bird's plumage that is able to blend into the local surroundings or its habitat.
-culmen....This is the top ridge line of a bird's upper bill.
-cygnet....Name for a young swan.
-cycle....Refers to the number of yearly cycles a bird will have to mature before developing into adult plumage.


ducks, teals, waterfowl -dabbling....A method of certain waterfowl, using their bill along the surface of the water, screening for food.
-diagnostic....Particular feathers that determine the species of the birds.
-dichromatism....The normal occurrence of two different colourations in the same species due to neither sex or age.
-decurved....Describes a bill that is curved downward, i.e. whimbrels and curlews.
-dihedral....Wings held in a V-shape profile, while the bird is flying.
-distal band....See "Subterminal band".
-distraction display....Behavior shown by certain bird species by the parent birds to lure predators away from the nest or young.
-diurnal....Birds that feed during daylight hours.
-down feathers....are the key feathers which keeps the birds warm.
-drake....Name given to some male species of birds.
-dump nesting....Laying of eggs in the nest of other birds, generally the same species.


breeding plumage, eclipse plumage -ear Coverts....Area of feathers located behind the bird's eyes, that cover the ears.
-eclipse plumage....See "Non-breeding plumage"
-endemic....Describing particular birds that are only found in certain states, countries or islands.
-eye crescents....Contrasting white crescents seen above and below the eye of a bird.
-eye ring....Is a distinct line seen around the bird's eye, that separates the eye from the face feathers.
-eye stripe....See "Supercilium".
-eyrie....See "Aerie".
-extant....Not extinct, still in existence.
-exotic birds....Non-native or tropical birds to North America.
-extirpated....Killed off or destroyed from a certain region, state or country.


pin feathers, fledging, juvenile -fall molts....also known as winter plumage, fall plumage or basic plumage.
-family....Is a classification of one of the larger groups of birds having enough mutual resemblances to be classified together and away from other bird species.
-fecal sac....Is a sac enclosing the feces of nestling birds, which allows the parent birds to remove and keeping the nest clean.
-field marks....Visible signs on a certain bird, which will allow ease in identification.
-flank....Visible sides of the bird seen below the wings.
-fledge....The act of a young bird leaving its nest.
-fledgling....A young bird old enough to leave the nest, but still depends on its parents
-flight feathers....Groups of the larger feathers located on a bird's wing and tail, including the primaries, secondaries, tertials and rectrices.
-flock....A group of any kind of birds....
-frontal shield....An extension running from the upper beak to the forehead.
-foveas....Particularly sensitive spots in the retina.
-furcula....Is the collarbone or clavicle, which is fused at their ends to form a V-shape.


goose, geese, male goose -gander....Name given to a male goose.
-gaggle....Flock of geese or a sound given by a goose.
-gape....The mouth lining or margin at the corner where the two mandibles intersect.
-genealogy....A history of the descent of a family from an ancestor.
-genus....Is a classification of one of a smaller group of birds having enough resemblance to be classified together as one bird species.
-gizzard....Expansion of the gut commonly filled with gravel for crushing food.
-gonydeal expansion....The point where the two lateral plates of the lower mandible meet near the tip and fuse into the gonys.
-gonydeal spot....The reddish spot around the gonydeal expansion on the lower mandible of a gull.
-gonys.... A ridge location on the bottom edge of the lower mandible of a gull.
-gorget....Area of iridescent feathers found about the throat and head of most male hummingbirds and some of the females.
-gosling....Name given to a young goose.
-guano....bird excrement in the crystalline form of surplus nitrogen known as uric acid.
-guild....A flock of birds, including different species, which share the same habitat.
-gular pouch....Or gular sac is located below the lower mandible, that allows some birds to hold their food.


flycatchers, kingbirds, pewees, phoebes -habitat....Is an environment which any certain species of birds will live in.
-hallux....Bird's hind toe.
-hawking....Action of catching insects on the wing.
-hatching....The process of producing young birds through incubation.
-hemi-parasites....Category of brood parasites who lay eggs in other bird nests occasionally.
-hen....Name given to certain female species of birds.
-heronry....Where colonies of herons, egrets, and ibises nest as a group.
-hindcollar....A band seen above the nape and below the crown on the back of a bird's neck.
-homeothermic....Animals, including man, who need constant body temperature.
-homologous....Means corresponding to or very much similar in position, structure, value or function, sharing common ancestry.
-humeral....Area of feather covering the bone near the upper-wing or shoulder.
-humerus....Bone found in the wing of a bird.
-hybrid....The offspring of parents of two different species.


juvenile, immature, fledging -IBA....Important Bird Area.
-immature....Bird not in adult plumage.
-immature plumage....Is the plumage seen on a bird, before it reaches its adult stage.
-incubation....Is the lying or resting on eggs, which generates heat, causing the eggs to hatch.
-intergrade....The offspring from breeding of two sub-species.
-intraspecific brood parasite....birds that lay their eggs in nest of same bird species to be raised by other families.
-intraspecific hybrids....When two different races, subspecies, varieties or breeds of same species are crossed, and an offspring is produced.
-interspecific brood parasite....birds that lay their eggs in nest of other bird species to be raised by other families
-interspecific hybrids....When two yet similar species mate, and offsprings are produced.
-irruptive....where certain species of birds may be seen in one year but not in the next, unpredictable.


young male turkey -jake....Name given to a young male turkey.
-juvenal....The plumage seen on a fledging.
-juvenile....Immature or young birds not fully developed nor into breeding.


beak, talons -keratin....Hardened protein forming feathers, beaks, claws and bills.
-kettle....Name given to congregations of migrating birds of prey seen soaring overhead.


ducks, geese, waterfowl -lamellae....Strainer type teeth found in the bills of waterfowl for feeding purposes.
-larder....Areas used by shrikes to store their prey.
-lek....A determined area where multiple male birds put on courtship displays in order to attract female mates.
-leucistic....Is a bird affected by leucism.
-leucism....Whiteness of feathers, but does not have red eyes, caused by reduced pigmentation in the bird's feathers by recessive allele.
-life list....Number of wild birds seen by one individual birder.
-lore....Area on a bird located between the bill and the eye.


face, cheek, side of head -malar....Area defined as cheek on a bird.
-mandible....Bird's lower bill, upper bill can be called this too.
-mantle....A term covering the back, shoulders, upperwing-coverts and secondaries, especially applied to gulls.
-manus....Portion of a bird's wing that supports the primary feathers.
-maxilla....Bird's upper bill.
-medial bar....Refers to the central portion of a feather, especially the primaries.
-melanism....opposite to albinism, it is the occurrence of very dark or black coloured birds, who normally have light coloured plumages.
-melanistic....A bird that has a surplus of dark feathers.
-mirror....A white spot or patch seen within the dark areas of the subterminal band on the tip of the primaries, i.e., gulls.
-mirror band....A group of white spots seen in the primaries, usually in gulls.
-mirror tongue....A continuous row of white tips seen throughout the primaries and secondaries.
-molt....When a bird loses its feathers, to regrow new ones.
-monogamous....Describes certain bird species who only have one sexual mate at one time.
-monophyletic....Recognized as one race of birds.
-monotypic....Refers to a species of birds that have no sub-species known.
-morph....Or phase (poorly used) is a colour variation found among the same species of a bird.
-moustachial stripe....A line of different coloured feathers from surrounding feathers, that resemble a moustache.
-murder....Name given to a group of crows.


back of neck -nape....An area located between the base of the back of the head and above the wings.
-niche....The ecological role played by a bird species within an animal community.
-nocturnal....Describes birds which feed at night.
-nomenclature....Is a system of names.
-nominate....Refers to the term given a bird which has the same scientific genus name as the scientific species name.
-non-breeding plumage....Or eclipse plumage is the more dab plumage seen on birds in the seasons outside their breeding periods.
-non-passerines....birds such as seabirds, waterfowl, birds of prey and doves.
-nuchal collar....Distinct feather markings across the nape of the bird's neck.


brood parasite -obligate brood parasites....Category of brood parasites who lay eggs in other bird nests regularly.
-occipital patch....Describes a patch located on the back of the crown, i.e. redpolls.
-occuput....An area on the back of a bird's head, located between the nape and the crown.
-orbital ring....A ring of naked skin around the eye.
-orbital skin....An area of bare skin surrounding the bird's eye.
-order....Is a classification of a group of families, who have enough difference to separate them from all other groups.
-ornithologist....Professional, who studies birds.
-ornithology....The study of birds.
-owlet....Name given to a young owl.
-owling....Word given to the practice of searching for owls at night by birders.


mating pairs, adult birds, geese -pair bond....The relationship formed between a male and female bird for nesting purposes and maybe for life.
-parliament....Name given to a group of owls.
-passerines....Known formerly as Passeriformes, sometimes as passeriformes, name given to all perching birds.
-patagial....Is the adjective form of patagium.
-patagial marks....Feathers associated to the area of the wing joints.
-patagial tags....Bird bands attached to the propatagium area of the wing of soaring birds that are visible from the ground.
-patagium....Is the elastic fold of skin extending from the shoulder to the carpal join.
-peacock....Name given to a male peafowl.
-peeps....A general term used to describe shorebirds.
-pelagic....Describe ocean going birds that are seldom seen from land.
-pen....Name given to female swans.
-penile....Applied to nest that is suspended between two forks of a limb, with nothing supporting from below.
-petinate....Where the claws on some deep water waders are furnished with comb-like teeth.
-philopatry....Refers to birds migrating back to the same regions as they were born.
-phylogeny....The actual evolutionary history of any plant or animal species.
-piebald....Term describing two colours of feathers.
-pinfeathers.....Refers to small and developing feathers emerging from the skin.
-pishing....Sound generated by forcing air through lips to attract birds.
-pollex....Or "thumb" is located on the bird's wing.
-polygynandry....Refer to certain bird species who pair up to more than one mate.
-polyandrous....Describes female birds that have more than one mate.
-polygynous....Describe birds group which males and females have more than one mate.
-polymorphic....Pertains to some species of birds who have different colours of plumage and being in the same race.
-polyphyletic.... Birds not closely related or share similarities with their most recent ancestors.
-postnuptial....Category given to a bird who has one molt per year.
-postocular spot....A distinctly coloured spot located behind the bird's eye.
-postocular stripe....A distinctly coloured stripe located behind the bird's eye.
-poults....Name given to young birds belonging to the game bird group.
-prebasic molt....Refers to molt that occurs just after breeding season.
-precocial....Describes young birds hatched with eyes open, down-covered feathers, and have the ability to leave their nest in a couple to a few days.
-preening...It is the act of spreading oil over the feather from the preen gland, which is located on the bird's lower back, near its tail.
-prenuptial....Category given to a bird who has a second molt in one year.
-primaries....The longest feather found on a bird's wing, located on the outer wing section.
-primary projections....Refers to the projection of the primaries beyond the tertials seen from the side of a standing bird.
-promiscuous....Describes bird groups, who join together only for mating purposes and then leave one another after.
-pygidium....Collection of a few fused bones making up of the tail of a bird.
-pyriform....Describes the pear like shape of an egg.


feather, bird wing, flight feathers -quill...The stout, horny and cylindrical center of a feather.


sub-species, races -race....Used in the same context as sub-species.
-rachis....The bar running through a feather forming the quill.
-radio-ulna....Bone found in the wing of a bird.
-range map....Land images depicting the breeding area, migration routes and winter ground of individual bird species.
-raptor....Referring to a bird of prey.
-rectrices....Tail feathers.
-rectrix....Tail feather.
-remex....Flight or wing feather.
-remiges....Flight or wing feathers.
-rookery....See "Heronry".
-roost....A resting site used by a bird or birds.
-rump....Area seen between the wings and the tail feathers.


wing feathers, coverts, shoulder -scapulars....Area of feathers seen at the top of a bird's wing.
-secondaries....Row of wing feathers located on the first section of a bird's wing.
-semi-parasitic....Birds which lays eggs in other bird nests, but also lays eggs in its own nest.
-semialtricial....Describes young birds hatched with eyes open, down-covered feathers, and do not have the ability to leave their nest.
-semicolonial....Describes birds of the same species who nest fairly close to one another and get along.
-semiprecocial....Describes young birds hatched with eyes open, down-covered feathers, and do the ability to leave their nest, but choose not to.
-sexual dimorphism....Refers to when the male and the female of the same species have completely different looks.
-skein....V flying formation seen in ducks and geese.
-skylarking....Flight pattern put on by male birds, where the bird flies high into the sky, fluttering to the ground, while singing and calling.
-snood....Skin seen hanging from above a male turkey's beak.
-spatulate....description of a spoon-shaped bill.
-species....Particular or individual name of bird.
-spectacles....Large eye ring connected to the lores, displaying a look of eye wear.
-speculum....Row of visible colourful feathers seen on the wings of ducks.
-spishing....Using the lips to create sounds, which attract birds into seeing view.
- -squeaking....Artificial sound made by birders, to attract birds or to have them expose themselves.
-sternum....Birds deeply keeled breast bone, forming a structure to which the wing muscles are attahed.
-stoop....Descending of a bird onto its prey.
-streaked....Rows of distinguishing feathers seen on a bird's breast and flanks.
-stripes....Distinguishing feather that runs the length of a bird's body.
-sub-species....Or races, identifies different birds belonging to the same species, but show noticeable differences among themselves.
-subterminal band....A distinct ban seen at the end of the tail feathers.
-subterminal spots....Or mirrors are spots seen on the out tip of the primary feathers, seen mostly on gulls.
-supercilliary....Feathers outlining the face of a bird.
-supercilium....or supercilliary stripe, is an apparent line over the bird's eye, like an eyebrow-line.
-superspecies....Refers to races of birds where each has its own geographical location.
-supraloral....The area seen above the lore.
-sympatry....Refers to the occurrences of species together in the same area.


beak, talons -talons....Elongated claws of a bird of prey.
-tarsi....The long foot bones that lead into the bird's toes.
-tarsus....The metatarsal bones of the foot fused together into a single bone.
-taxa....Plural form for Taxon.
-taxon....Refers to a general taxonomic category.
-taxonomy....Or systematics is the science of classification of organisms of orders, families, genera, species...etc.
-tertials....Or "tertiary" are flight feathers located at the base of a bird's wing.
-territory....Is a region determined by breeding pairs and defended from other intruders.
-tibia....Birds upper leg bone.
-tom....Name given to a male turkey.
-totipalmate....All toes are joined by webs.
-transient bird....Describes a bird seen in an area located between its breeding and non-breeding zones.
-tympani....Vocal organ valve that produces the bird's sound.
-type E botulism....A disease that targets waterbirds who feed on fish.


small feathers, rump, vent -undertail coverts....Small feathers that cover the base of the undertail of the bird.
-underwing coverts....Small feathers that cover the base of the underwing of the bird.
-uppertail coverts....Small feather that cover the base of the upper side of the tail feather and rump.


-vagrant....A bird seen outside its breeding zones or its natural habitat.
-vent....Area of a bird located between the belly and the base of the underside of the tail feathers.
-vermiclation....Description of fine waving lines seen in a bird's plumage.
-vestigial toe....Small spur-like toe, seen above the feet and back of the leg of waterfowl.
-vinaceous.... A peculiar purplish pink shown or suggested in the coloration of some birds.


turkey, wild turkey, tom -wattle....Fleshy skin that hangs from the lower bill, ie turkeys, chickens.
-wing-bar....A row of distinct marks distinguished on the flight feathers of a bird's wing.
-wing coverts....Feathers covering the base of the flight feathers on a bird's wing.
-wing projection....Refers to the projection of the primaries beyond the tail feathers, seen from the side of a standing bird.
-wingtips....Refers to the tips of the primaries, seen from the side of a standing bird.
-wishbones....See "Furcula".


four toes, woodpecker -zygodactylous....Bird groups have two toes forward with two toes backward.



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Classic Collection of North American Birds

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