Visual Search | Wizard | Browse
 Bird Glossary
Location: Home ► Glossary

This glossary contains terminology and definitions for birds in alphabetical order.


4 and 6 Letter Alpha Codes

The four letter common name alpha code is is derived from the first two letters of the common first name and the first two letters of common last name. The six letter species name alpha code is derived from the first three letters of the scientific name (genus) and the first three letters of the scientific name (species). See (1) below for the rules used to create the codes.

Four-letter (for English common names) and six-letter (for scientific names) species alpha codes were developed by Pyle and DeSante (2003, North American Bird-Bander 28:64-79) to reflect A.O.U. taxonomy and nomenclature (A.O.U. 1998) as modified by Supplements 42 (Auk 117:847-858, 2000) and 43 (Auk 119:897-906, 2002). The list has been updated by Pyle and DeSante to reflect changes reported by the A.O.U from 2003 through 2006.

Alphabetic (“alpha”) codes, abbreviations of English or scientific bird names, have long been employed by ornithologists. They allow quicker data entry than filling out the full English or scientific name of a species and they can also serve to cross-check other recorded names or numeric data. The U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) has long used alpha codes in banding data, and these codes have become an integral part of large ornithological programs across Canada and the United States; however, inconsistencies occur in the rules governing the alpha codes of the BBL, and their list does not include most species found exclusively in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Pyle and DeSante recognized the utility of alpha-code systems, so they created two lists of alpha codes for use by North and Central American and Caribbean ornithologists. The first list contains four-letter codes, based on English names, broadly following the rules and strategies adopted by the BBL. This list differs from that of the BBL in two ways. First, all 2038 species recorded from the American Ornithologists' Union area (through 2004 according to their 45th supplement) are included, as well as 91 non-species forms (many of which were recognized by the BBL) for which standardized English names are provided. Second, standardized, species-categorization definitions and conflict-resolution formulae have been derived and strictly adhered to. The second list follows the same basic principles except that it contains six-letter codes based on the scientific names (genus, species, and subspecies) of the species or forms. We hope that this second list will be useful for ornithologists, particularly those in Latin American countries, who prefer using scientific rather than English names. These two lists will be updated every two years, following taxonomic and name changes adopted by the AOU in future biennial supplements. Read More: The BBL code system: Rules for forming the codes

Abdomen

Also called the belly, it is the ventral part of the bird.

Alula

Small joint on the bird’s wing, similar to the human thumb, with three or four quill-like feathers. It is a necessity for low speed flight and maneuverability. The feathers function much like the slats on airplanes by basically increasing the curve of the wing and as such help the bird to land and take-off again.

Alular quills

Three feathers attached to the alula originating from the base of the primaries. They are essential for low speed flight and aid in coordinated landing and take-off.

Alular quill coverts

Alular quill coverts are smaller feathers covering the quill of each flight feather. Each wing has primary, secondary and tertiary coverts based on the location of the feather.

Auricular

Soft webbed feathers on the side of the bird's head. These feathers overlap the ear and as such are also called ear coverts or ear patch.

Axillary

Located between the body and the wing of the bird. Similar to the human armpit, also called the wingpit.

Back

The dorsal part of the bird between the base of the wings from the neck to the tail.

Belly

The ventral part of the bird, or the area between the flanks on each side and the crissum and breast. Flight muscles are located between the belly and the breast.

Bill

Birds do not have a mouth like humans, but instead have a bill or a beak. The bill reveals much about the bird’s food and lifestyle.

Body

The body is similar to the human torso area. It is the bird’s main mass not including its appendages such as wings, tails and legs.

Breast

The upper front part of a bird.

Breast band

A contrasting band across the breast.

Breast spot

The breast spot is a small area of contrasting color on the breast.

Cap

The area on top of the head of the bird.

Cere

Also called the operculum, it is a smooth and featherless patch of skin located where the beak attaches to the forehead.

Cheek

Located between the lore, eye, auricular and the lower mandible.

Chest

Also called the breast area, it is the frontal area on the body containing the breastplate and major flight muscles.

Chin

The area of the face just below the bill.

Cloaca

Birds do not have two separate cavities for excrement and reproduction like humans do. In birds, there is one entrance/exit that suits both functions. It is also called anus or vent.

Cloacal kiss

This term is analogous to sexual intercourse in humans. It is used to describe copulation between birds.

Collar

Similar to the upper part of the human neck, located at the back of the crown.

Comb

Only found in male birds and consists of a colored area over the eye. A well developed comb can also signal (sexual) health to a potential mate.

Commissure

The hinge where the mandibles meet.

Crest

Tufts of feathers on the head of the bird.

Crissum

The feathers in a triangular area on the underside of a bird between its vent and the base of its tail feathers.

Crown

The crown is the top part of the birds head.

Culmen

The culmen is the uppermost central ridge of the upper mandible.

Dihedral

When a bird in flight holds its wings such that they appear to form a “V” shape they are called dihedral.

Ear patch

Consists of soft, loose-webbed feathers on the side of the bird's head below and behind the eyes.

Ears

The rounded areas on the bird’s face covered with feathers, also called facial discs.

Eye

The eye is the organ of sight. The bird's eyes are larger compared to the bird's skull and are, therefore, proportionally larger than human eyes. Since the skull is lighter compared to the human skull (adjusted for size), the eyes take up about 15% of the weight.

Eye line

The line of feathers just in front of and behind the eyes. It extends back from the posterior angle of the eye. This can be a useful trait used in identification in the field since it is very noticeable.

Eye ring

The circle around the eye formed of feathers that are a different color from the rest of the face.

Eyebrow

Also called the supercilicum or superciliary it is the arch of feathers over each eye.

Eyelid

Birds have one upper and one lower eyelid - the latter being more moveable. Birds also have a nictitating membrane between both eyelids and the cornea. It has its own lubricating duct equivalent to the human tear duct to clean and protect the eye.

Face

The front part of the head consisting of the bill, eyes, cheeks and chin.

Facial discs

Also called ears.

Feet

The feet are located at the terminal part of the legs, and most birds have four toes. The first toe points backwards while the other three toes point forward. The second, third and fourth digits or toes are counted from the inside of the foot out and have 2, 3 and 4 phalanges respectively. Most birds do not have a fifth toe except for some where it has evolved into a defensive sput, such as in the chicken.

Flank

The lateral area posterior to the side of the bird’s body that extends back to the base of the tail.

Flank stripe

Contrasting colored stripes on the flanks.

Flight feathers

Located on the wing, and collectively called remiges (singular, remex). The long stiff feathers are subdivided into two major groups based on the location and are called primaries and secondaries.

Forehead

Is located above the eyes.

Foreneck

Also called the jugulum or throat patch, it is located on the front of the neck.

Frontal shield

The area where the bill extends onto the forehead of the bird. It is often brightly colored and is meant to grab the attention of other birds.

Gape

Also called commissure, it is the hinge where the mandibles meet.

Gonys

The lower most ridge on the lower mandible.

Gorget

A small iridescent patch on the throat of a hummingbird.

Greater secondary coverts

The feathers overlying the bases of the secondaries. In some birds, the primary converts are completely covered by them.

Gular region

The area between the chin and the foreneck.

Head

The head is the upper part of the body, containing the bill, eyes, crown, ears and nose.

Head stripes

The head stripes are the contrasting colored lines on the top of the bird's head. This is a useful feature to discriminate between species. However, juvenile birds often have less pronounced stripes than adults.

Hindhead

Also called the occiput, it is the back portion of the bird's crown.

Hindneck

Also called the nape and collar, it is the back of the neck.

Horns

Paired contour feathers on top of the head of the bird.

Inner primaries

The inner primaries are a group of feathers closest to the body on the wing of the bird. They are generally covered partially by the secondaries.

Inner secondaries

The group of secondary feathers located closest to the body with respect to the outer secondary coverts.

Inner wing

Includes the shoulder, the secondaries and the secondary coverts.

Iris

The iris is the colored part of the eye, equal to the human iris, located around the pupil.

ITIS Code

The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) was established in the mid-1990's as a cooperative project among several federal agencies to improve and expand upon taxonomic data (known as the NODC Taxonomic Code) maintained by the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To find the ITIS page for a bird species go to the ITIS web site advanced search and report page at http://www.itis.gov/advanced_search.html. You can enter the TSN or the common name of the bird. It will return the ITIS page for that bird. Another way to obtain the ITIS page is to use the Google search engine.

Enter the string ITIS followed by the taxonomic ID, for example "ITIS 178041" will return the page for the Allen's Hummingbird. ITIS inherited approximately 210,000 scientific names with varying levels of data quality from the NODC data set. While many important taxonomic groups were not well represented (e.g., terrestrial insects), the rate of errors and omissions within represented taxonomic groups ranged from relatively low (e.g., few misspellings or occasional typographical errors) to rather high (e.g., many species names without authors or dates, or species assigned to wrong groups). Every living organism that has been classfied into the ITIS database has a 6 digit taxonomic serial number (TSN). This unique number can be used at the ITIS web site to obtain the most up to date classification information about a species. More information on the ITIS system.

Jugulum

The ventral part of the neck under the bill.

Knee

The joint in the middle part of the leg, in the same location as the human knee.

Leading edge of wing

The leading edge of the wing is the first from a frontal position when the bird is in flight.

Leg

Proportionally the bird’s legs are extremely strong in order for it to be able to land and take off without getting injured.

Lesser secondary coverts

The short feathers overlying the median secondary coverts on the top of the wing. They are located near the shoulder and can be seen as the first row of feathers on the bird’s wing. They are also called marginal coverts and are referred to as the shoulder.

Lore

The area under the eye and above the bill.

Lower mandible

The lower part of the bill.

Lower mandibular tomia

The cutting edge of the lower mandible.

Malar stripe

Also called whisker, mustache or malar streak, it is the area below the eye and bill on the sides of the chin that stretches downwards.

Mandibular ramus

A prong-like projection from the bill on the posterior side.

Mantle

The upper surface of the back and wings covered with shorter feathers.

Marginal coverts

The feathers overlying the base of the median secondary coverts and are also called lesser secondary coverts or shoulder. They are positioned at the top edge of the wing closest to the body of the bird.

Median line

The stripe along the very top part of the head through the crown.

Median secondary coverts

The feathers on the wing covering the bases of the greater secondary coverts.

Mustache

Also called a malar streak, stripe or whisker it is the contrasting color on each side of the chin down through the throat area

Mouth

The mouth is similar in function to the human mouth and refers to the cavity bounded by the bill.

Nape

Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.

Nasal canthus

The inner corner of the eye.

Nasal fossa

The depression in which the bird’s nostril is located.

Neck

The neck connects the head to the body of the bird.

Neck patch

A sac located on the neck that is inflatable and is only visible in males during courtship displays.

Nictitating membrane

The third eyelid of the bird that can be closed for protection. It has its own moisturizing system similar to tear ducts.

Nostril

The nostrils are the two small openings on the top of the bill.

Occiput

The back portion of the crown.

Operculum

The smooth and featherless patch of skin located where the beak attaches to the forehead of certain birds. It is often enlarged and brightly colored such as one can observe in pigeons, parrots and birds of prey. It is also called the cere.

Outer primaries

The outer primaries are the primary feathers on the wing farthest from the body. They often appear to be the longest feathers on the wing.

Outer secondaries

The outer secondaries are the secondary feathers of the wing furthest away from the body.

Outer tail feathers

The tail feathers farthest from the center.

Outer wing

The alula and the primary feathers.

Pelagic

The pelagic is a type of bird whose habitat is on the open ocean rather than in a coastal region or on inland bodies of water (lakes, rivers). An example of a pelagic bird is the blacklegged kittiwake.

Pinnae

Elongated feathers projecting from the upper body area, generally the neck or head.

Plumes

Large, conspicuous, showy feathers.

Primaries

The primaries are the flight feathers specialized for flight. They are attached to the "hand" equivalent part of the wing.

Primary coverts

The primary coverts are shorter feathers that cover and protect the primary flight feathers.

Primary numbering

The primary numbering is a system developed to assign numbers to each primary feather for easier identification.

Pupil

The dark center of the eye.

Rectrices

The principal feathers that make up the tail. They range in number from eight to twenty-four.

Remiges

Refers to the flight feathers-primaries, secondaries, and tertials.

Rictal bristles

The short and stiff feathers near the bill.

Rictus

The base of the bill where the mandibles join.

Ruff

A fringe of feather growth on the neck of a male bird used in courtship displays

Rump

The area between the uppertail coverts and the back of the bird.

Scapulars

Short feathers in the area where the bird’s back and wings join.

Secondaries

Flight feathers that are attached to the wing in the area similar to the human forearm and between the body and the primaries.

Secondary coverts

The feathers that cover and protect the secondaries.

Shoulder

The short feathers overlying the median secondary coverts on the top of the wing. They are located near the back and can be seen as the “first row” of feathers on the birds wing. They are also called marginal coverts and lesser secondary coverts.

Side

The area between the belly, the wing and back, It is equivalent to the area between the human armpit and the hip bone.

Side of neck

The area between the foreneck and hindneck.

Spectacle

The spectacle refers to the combination of the eye ring and supraloral line.

Speculum

The brightly colored area on the wing (secondaries of the wing) on several duck species.

Subterminal band

The bands of contrasting color located just before the tip of the tail.

Superciliary line

Also called supercilium or eyebrow, it is the arch of feathers over the eye in the same approximate location as the human eye brow.

Supercilium

Also called the superciliary, it is the arch of feathers over the eye.

Supraloral line

A contrasting line between the eye and the bill.

Tail

Feathers extending from the rear of the bird and used for balance and as an asset to attract potential mates.

Tail coverts

The short tail feathers covering the base of the long tail feathers.

Tail numbering

The tail numbering is a system developed to assign a number to each tail feather which can convey certain characteristics about certain species.

Tarsus

The tarsus is the part of the leg between the knee and the foot of the bird, similar to the lower leg in humans..

Temporal canthus

The outer corner of the eye closest to the ear.

Terminal band

The terminal band refers to the contrasting stripe at the tip of the tail.

Tertiaries

The third set of flight feathers located closest to the body.

Throat

Similar in locations to the human throat

Throat patch

Feathers of a contrasting color found on the throat.

Tibia

Similar to the human upper leg.

Toe

The toes aredigits attached to the feet just like human toes. Most birds have four toes. The first toe points backwards while the other three toes point forward. The second, third and fourth digits or toes are counted from the inside of the foot out and have 2, 3 and 4 phalanges respectively. Most birds do not have a fifth toe, except for some where it has evolved into a defensive sput, such as in the chicken

Trailing edge of wing

The edge of the wing seen when the wing is stretched out in flight.

Underparts

Include the belly, undertail coverts, breast, flanks and foreneck.

Undertail coverts

Also called crissum, they are feathers in a triangular area on the underside of a bird between its vent and the base of its tail feathers. Adult females tend to have conspicuous dusky edging to most of these feathers. Juvenile females tend to have nearly pure white undertail coverts.

Underwing

The bottom side of the wing.

Upper mandible

The upper part of the bill.

Upper mandibular tomia

The cutting edge of the upper bill.

Upperparts

Include the back, rump, hindneck, wings and crown.

Uppertail coverts

Short feathers covering the upper side of the base of the tail.

Upperwing

Visible part of the wing when looking at the bird from a top view while the bird is stationary and has its wings pressed against its body.

Vent

Birds do not have two separate cavities for excrement and reproduction like humans do. In irds, there is one single entrance/exit that suits both functions called the vent, cloaca or anus.

Whisker

Also called the mustache, malar steak or stripe, it is the contrasting colored feathers on each side of the chin down through the throat area.

Wing

The wing is the feathered appendage that allows a bird to fly. Strong flight muscles are attached to the wing such that the bird can lifts its own bodyweight.

Wing bars

The wing bars make the bird's wing look "striped". They are pale or white tips of the greater and median secondary coverts on the wings. From a distance, it can be viewed as a horizontally striped pattern making the wing look layered.

Wing coverts

The feathers that cover and protect the flight feathers.

Wing lining

The wing lining is the short and softer median, lesser and marginal coverts on the underwing.

Wing stripe

The area at the base of the wing which is made up of pale or white tips on the flight feathers.

Wingpit

Also called the axillary, is located between the body and the wing of the bird, similar to the area of the human armpit.

Wrist

The wrist refers to the base of the primaries in the bird’s wing.
Home |  SearchBrowser | Expert | Forum | Store | My WhatBird | Help | Site Map  
© 2002 - 2008  Mitch Waite Group All rights reserved. Privacy Policy. Service Agreement.  

Percevia® Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Field guides, illustrations, and database Copyright © 2004 - 2013. Mitch Waite Group.
Whatbird parametric search. This product and/or its method of use is covered by one or more of the following patent(s): US patent number 7,363,309 and foreign equivalents.
The best bird guide and bird watching search engine to identify birds in the world!
Whatbird.com logo design courtesy of The Haller Company
Web01 10/24/2014 05:39