If you are birding or photographing birds, you are likely to come across various slangs, jargons and scientific terms that experts use in the field. Here we have compiled a Birds Glossary with the most commonly used words and their meanings.


  • Auriculars: Loose-webbed feathers on the sides of a bird’s head and overlying its ear openings. These feathers are also called “ear coverts”.
  • Abdomen: That part of the undersurface of a bird’s body from the breastbone to the vent or to the opening of the digestive tract. Also known a belly.
  • Axillaries: feathers that cover the underside of the wing in the region of the armpit of the bird, that is, where the wing joins the body. In some species it is distinctly coloured.


  • Bar: a band across the breast, tail or wing that is contrasting in colour or shading.
  • Birder: a bird watcher, a person who enjoys watching and studying birds.
  • Birding: the hobby of watching and studying birds.
  • Breeding plumage: feathers that are usually more brightly coloured than non-breeding feathers and which appear during the breeding season.


  • Cap: a patch of colour on the top of the head or the crown of a bird.
  • Crown: The top of the head of a bird; the area between its forehead or back of the head. In some birds, such as the Blue Jay, it can be called the crest.
  • Collar: a contrasting coloured band of feathers on the neck of a bird.
  • Colour morph: variations of colours of individuals of the same species, either lighter or darker plumage, as in some eagles.
  • Courting display: a display by either a male or female bird, or both, used to attract a mate with the aim of breeding.
  • Coverts: the smaller feathers that cover the bases of the tail feathers or wing feathers.


  • Diurnal: a bird species that is active by day, the opposite of nocturnal.
  • Duetting: a male and a female of the same species singing together, usually in response to each other, and with different song patterns.


  • Eclipse plumage: for some months after breeding some species, for example, some male ducks and male wrens, take on a duller plumage colour before resuming their normal plumage.
  • Eye stripe: An identification marking for a stripe that appears above the eye.
  • Eyering: An identification marking applied to a ring around the eye.
  • Endangered: a species so few in number it is in danger of becoming rare or even extinct.
  • Endemic: a species of bird that is confined to a particular region.
  • Extinct: a species that has died out and is no longer in existence.


  • Fledge: a bird is said to fledge when it is able to fly.
  • Fledgling: a young bird that is partly or wholly covered in feathers. It is also used of a young bird when it first begins to fly.
  • Flight feathers: these are the well developed feathers on the wings and tail which are used in flight. The wing feathers consist of primaries, secondaries and tertiaries.


  • Juvenile: a young fledged bird that has not yet reached sexual maturity.


  • Lores: Term for a small area on each side of a bird’s face, between its eyes and the base of the upper part of its bill.


  • Mantle: A term for the plumage of the back of a bird and the wing coverts on the top of its wings, especially applied to hawks and gulls; specifically the feathers of the back and the folded wings.
  • Migration: the regular seasonal or annual movement of a species from one area to another.


  • Nocturnal: active at night, such as owls. (The opposite is diurnal, or active in the day time.)
  • Nomadic: some species are able to move erratically between different regions in response to drought, rainfall or lack of food sources.
  • Nape: The back part of the neck. In a bird, the nape is the part of the hind neck just below the back part of the head.


  • Ornithologist: another name for a birder or bird watcher, but usually someone who takes their interest very seriously. Those who study birds as part of their work are best called ornithologists.
  • Ornithology: the serious study of birds, the habits, life cycle, habitats and characteristics of birds, often involving keeping of detailed records and writing articles or books about birdlife.


  • Passerine: more than half the birds in the world are in the order called Passeriformes. They are sometimes called perching birds, or, less accurately, songbirds. The name comes from the Latin name for the common House Sparrow Passer domesticus. All Passerines have three toes pointing forward with no webbing, and one toe pointing backward. Non-Passerines have a variety of arrangements of toes.
  • Pellet: a chunk of material consisting of undigested food particles such as feathers, bones and other things regurgitated by some raptors, owls, corvids, and other species.
  • Pied: having feathers in a black and white pattern.
  • Plumage: all the feathers covering a bird are called its plumage. The colours and condition of the plumage can change with age, sex and the time of the year. Some species have special breeding plumage for a part of the year, for example.
  • Primaries: Flight feathers attached to the manus, or the “hand” part of the wing.


  • Range: the normal distribution of a species of bird, where it is normally found.
  • Raptors: birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and owls.
  • Resident: a bird that remains in the same place all year round is said to be resident, as opposed a species that is migratory.
  • Roost: the act of sleeping by birds; the word can also be used of the perch, such as a branch, where the bird sleeps.
  • Rump: this is the part of the bird below the back and above the tail feathers.


  • Scapulars: A group of prominent feathers arising from a bird’s shoulders.
  • Secondaries: Flight feathers attached to the forearm (ulna), nearer the bird’s body than the primary feathers.


  • Talons: these are strong, sharp, curved claws used by birds like eagles, hawks and owls.
  • Tail feathers: A group of flight feathers at the end of the bird. This group of feathers is called the “rectrices” or “steering feathers”.


  • Underparts: The under surface of the body of a bird from the base of the bill to the root of the tail.
  • Undertail coverts: Small feathers under the tail of a bird. They are collectively called the “crissum”.


  • Vent: the area of a bird’s body around the cloaca.


  • Wing coverts: the small feathers on top of the wings.
  • Wingbars: a term used to describe an identification marking on the wings. Usually a band or stripe of a different color.