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Bird Glossary

Updated on March 30, 2015

Airsacs (or lungs)


Barbs, barblets and hooks


Wing feathers - coverts plus others


A - e

  • Airsacs
  • - Airsacs is another word for lungs.
  • Altricial
  • - It is a pattern of development in which young birds are featherless and dependent upon the parents for food and warmth for the first few weeks of their life.
  • Animalia
  • - All members of the animal kingdom - sponges, fish (jellyfish, eels, etc.), land animals, insects, etc.
  • Augury
  • - studying the flight patterns and actions of birds.
  • - A class of vertebrates comprised of birds.
  • Barbicels
  • - (see 'barbules' below)
  • Barbules
  • - The barbules and barbicels form an interlocking structure which holds the feathers together.
  • Belly
  • - It is underneath the body, above the ground, about 1" - 2" in front of the legs.
  • Bounding flight
  • - Sometimes when a bird is in flight it will flap its wings mixed with periods of holding the wings against the body for a certain time.
  • Bristles
  • - They are long, stiff feathers with mostly naked shafts - bristles near the mouth are named rictal bristles.
  • Brood
  • - A brood is all young birds which come from a single clutch of eggs.
  • Brooding
  • - It is when parents warm eggs (or young) who are incapable of it themselves.
  • Cap
  • - It is a darker area of feathers on the top of the head - it may cover a small or large portion of the head.
  • Chordate
  • - Animals possessing a notochord (dorsal nerve chord - dorsal means 'back')
  • Cluster (eggs)
  • - It is a group of eggs which a bird lays at one time.
  • Clutch
  • - It is a complete set of eggs laid for one brood.
  • Coverts
  • - They are the small feathers covering bases of usually larger feathers, providing a smooth aerodynamic surface.
  • Crop
  • - It is an expanded, muscular pouch near the throat for storing food.
  • Crest
  • - Slightly larger feathers on the top of the head which, when raised, form a peak. Birds can choose to raise or lower crest. [ex: Northern Cardinal, for one]
  • Crown
  • - The uppermost surface of the head.
  • Culmen
  • - See 'mandible' below.
  • Dimorphic, sexually
  • - Differences in appearance between the males and females of a species (size, color, shape, features).
  • Down
  • - A layer of feathers which are usually unseen because they are underneath the top layer on the exterior. Very young birds are sometimes clad in down at birth, these are usually altricial type.
  • Ear patch
  • - Darker feathers located just behind and below the eye, around the area of the ear.
  • Eyebrow
  • - A stripe running horizontally from the base of the bill above both eyes.
  • Eye line
  • - It is a stripe running horizontally from the base of the bill through the eye.
  • Eye-ring
  • - It is a fleshy or feathered ring around the eye.

Hummingbird gorget - pink area on throat

Calliope Hummingbird from USDA Forest
Calliope Hummingbird from USDA Forest | Source

F - j

  • Flank
  • - It is an area on the side of the body, just in front of the closed wings, which may or may not be of a different color.
  • Fledging
  • - This is when the young are in the nest being fed and taught how to control their flight knowledge until they can leave on their own
  • Fledgling
  • - It is the step which follows a nestling. This is a young bird is which dependent upon its parents for food and care until it is fully grown and able to leave the nest.
  • Forage(s)
  • - Birds searching for food.
  • Forest canopy
  • - The upper layer or habitat zone formed by mature tree crowns.
  • Fuzz
  • - It is a kind of long thin hair which you will see on (most species) young birds when they emerge, or hatch, from their egg(s).
  • Groom (grooming)
  • - It is brushing and cleaning of feathers.
  • Gorget
  • - It is the area of the throat on hummingbirds that is often iridescent (reflective) on the males.
  • Gular (buccal)
  • - These are pouches which open on the floor of the parents mouths to carry food to their young.
  • Hatchling
  • - A hatchling is a young bird which has recently emerged from an egg. They are usually covered all, or mostly all, over their body in a sort of 'fuzz' to keep them warm in the eggs and for a while after they emerge. The next step is the fledgling. (some birds do not have this fuzz. It depends on the species.)
  • Homogenous
  • - This means birds, or species, of the same kind.
  • Hybrid
  • - The result of two (different or separate) species interbreeding.
  • Immature
  • - The immature is usually when the birds leave the nest plus they are the young birds that most people see in photos. At this step they should be entirely clean of the 'fuzz'.
  • Incubation
  • - A time when one of the parents keeps the eggs warm until they become hatched.
  • Inbreeding
  • - This usually involves breeding with closely related individuals.
  • Juvenile
  • - This step is the next step between immature and adult. It is when the colors and most other necessities are almost filling in. You can still tell the difference between this and adult in most species but in some it is harder.

Wild bird with red lore

 Red-lored Amazon, head from lateral
Red-lored Amazon, head from lateral | Source

Male and female with different color napes

Brahminy Mynah with ruffled nape feathers. IIT Kanpur, India
Brahminy Mynah with ruffled nape feathers. IIT Kanpur, India | Source

K - o

  • Lore
  • - It is the area between the base of the bill and the eye.
  • Mandible
  • - The mandible is one of the two parts, either upper or lower, of a bird's bill.
  • Mantle
  • - It is the group of feathers in the center of the back. It can also refer to folded wings, (the inner section), when a bird is at rest (also on the bird's back).
  • Molt
  • - To molt is a complete, or only partial, shedding of one, or all, of its feathers.
  • Monogamous
  • - Means being married to one mate at a time.
  • Morph ( is a color phase)
  • - It is one of two or more distinct color types within the same species and occurring independently of age, sex, or season.
  • Nape
  • - It can be the back of one, or both, of the head area or neck area. It depends on the bird.
  • Nestling
  • - The nestling follows the hatchling. At this step in growth, the young birds have lost most of the fuzz having only small bits here and there.

P - u

  • Passeriformes
  • - The largest order of birds which consist mostly of ones that sing and perch (ex: titmouse to raven, cardinal, robin etc.)
  • Phylum
  • - A taxanomic rank between 'class' and 'kingdom' which are the top two on the list.
  • Plumage
  • - Plumage is the complete set of a bird's feathers at a certain time of its life, (such as breeding, non-breeding, etc.).
  • Polygamous
  • - It means being married to more than one mate at the same time.
  • Polymorphic
  • - It is having two or more morphs or phases within a single species.
  • Preen
  • - It means to straighten and clean feathers with the beak. It also includes reconnecting barbules.
  • Primaries
  • - They the longest and outermost (usually 9 or 10) flight feathers.
  • Race (subspecies)
  • - A geographical population that is slightly different from other populations of the same species.
  • Rump
  • - It is located on the lower back, just before the tail.
  • Secondaries
  • - They are the inner flight feathers that are attached to the "forearm".
  • Sedentary
  • - Birds which are residents within fixed areas and do not travel any farther than within that area; nonmigratory.
  • Semi-colonial
  • - Birds build their nests generally a few feet near each other, usually for protection.
  • Tarsus
  • - This is part of lower birds leg of between thigh and ankle.
  • Tertials
  • - The three innermost secondaries closest to the body.
  • Tree-heath (Erica arborea L.)
  • - This is an evergreen shrub that grows mainly in Mediterranean region.
  • Underbrush
  • - Shrubs and small trees forming the undergrowth in a forest.
  • Undertail coverts
  • - They are feathers which appear underneath, just in front of the tail.
  • Upperparts
  • - These parts include the back, rump, hindneck and crown.

Wing bars

Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - male Hemipus picatus Hemipus picatus picatus Phuket Island, Thailand 28th. August 2007
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike - male Hemipus picatus Hemipus picatus picatus Phuket Island, Thailand 28th. August 2007 | Source

V - z

  • Vent
  • - Birds have only a single entrance/exit used for both body waste and breeding (in humans there are two). This cavity in birds is called the vent (or anus).
  • Wing bar
  • - A bar of contrasting color on the upper wing coverts. They can be vertical or horizontal, some birds have one, two or more.
  • Winter plumage
  • - The plumage held during the winter months.
  • Winter range
  • - The geographical range of the bird during winter.

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Author: Kevin - ©2013

© 2013 The Examiner-1


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    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      You are welcome. I am always glad to help. Keep checking back because new birds I write about sometimes have new words.


    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from USA

      Your bird glossary is the perfect discovery. My neighbor is an avid bird watcher and many times when she is sharing things with me, I have to ask her about this and that. Now, I can study your glossary and enjoy the conversation more. Thanks.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Thank you very much. I was making sure that all of the words in the bird Hubs had a clear explanation.


    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A great hub Kevin and your obvious hard work has certainly paid off here.

      Voting up for sure.


    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Thank you CraftytotheCore. I am surprised to get a comment like this on the glossary but I appreciate it very much. :-)

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      What a great Hub! This is so interesting and the pictures correlate very well.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Thank you, I try to cover everything for my readers.

    • sprickita profile image

      sprickita 4 years ago from Reno

      I Think you were very throe well done 8-)