Abdomen: Ventral part of the bird; belly.
Aberrant: Atypical; an aberrant bird differs strikingly in some
aspect from most individuals of its species.
Deciduous trees in the genus Acacia. In Africa these are thorny,
with bipinnately compound leaves (each leaf is again divided into
small leaflets) and small powderpufflike or elongated flowers.
Accipiter: A woodland bird of prey that hunts other birds by chasing
them through trees. Accipiters have short, fat wings and a long tail
for maneuvering through trees.
Activity Range: The area over which a bird regularly carries on its
A special physical or behavioural ability that has allowed a species
adjust to a particular way of life.
(of eggs) Rotten, usually infertile.
Afromontane: Term used for the mountainous ranges across the Afrotropical Region;
mostly inland at high altitude and with temperate climate
Air sac: An expandable, featherless, often brightly colored and
textured area on the sides of the neck in some birds; certain grouse
and prairie-chickens inflate air sacs in courtship displays. In
anatomical usage, the term refers to internal organs connected to
the lungs in all birds.
Alate: Winged (usually in reference to winged termites).
Albinism: White plumage and pink soft parts resulting from a complete lack of
the pigment melanin.
Alien: Introduced from another part of the world.
Allopatric: The geographical range of one species (or taxon) not overlapping
with that of another, similar, species (or taxon). (See also parapatric and
Allopreening: Preening of one bird by another.
Alternate plumage: In most bird species, the plumage worn during the
breeding season; often more vividly colored and patterned than the
nonbreeding (or basic) plumage, particularly in males.
Altitudinal migrant: A bird that moves seasonally from one altitude to another, usually
from high-altitude breeding grounds in summer to low-altitude
non-breeding grounds in winter.
Altitudinal migration: Seasonal movements from one altitude to another, usually from
high-altitude breeding grounds in summer to lower altitudes in
Altricial: Describes a young bird that is more or less helpless at hatching and
has to be fed in the nest by adults (see Precocial).
Alula: Usually four small feathers found on a bird's 'thumb' (first digit),
also known as the 'bastard' wing; controls airflow over the leading
edge of the wing.
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
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.
Anisodactyl: Foot arrangement with toes 2-4 pointing forwards, toe 1 backwards;
found in most birds.
Anting: Bird on ground either lies down, wings and tail spread, allowing
ants to crawl over plumage (passive), or picks up ants and rubs them
over feathers (active). Function debated: may be to remove stale
preening oil (with formic acid produced by ants), or glandular
secretions of ants may act as antibiotics, protecting feathers.
(of song) Given alternately (in duet) by two birds.
Apical: Terminal; refers to the apex or outer end.
Apteria (pl): Unfeathered parts of bird's; body between feather tracts.
Aquatic: Living in or on water.
Arboreal: Living in trees.
Arm: Informal term for the inner portion of the wing between the
body and the carpal joint.
Arthropod: Invertebrate with segmented body, jointed limbs and external
skeleton (Phylum Arthropoda).
(of flight feather moult) From the outside of a feather tract
inwards (e.g. P10 to P1).
Aspect ratio: In birds, the ratio of wing length to wing breadth.
Asynchronous hatching: Staggered hatching of birds in a single
clutch (group of eggs), often over several days.
Auriculars: 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.
Austral: Of the southern hemisphere.
Aviculture: The breeding and raising of birds in captivity; when
such species are cross-bred, new “strains,” or types, are sometimes
created that do not closely resemble their wild ancestors.
Axillaries: The feathers found where the underwing joins the body (the
Back: The dorsal part of the bird between the base of the
wings from the neck to the tail.
Backcross: Offspring resulting from the mating of a hybrid bird with
one of its parental species.
Bailkiaea woodland: A broadleaved deciduous woodland type (usually tall), restricted to
Kalahari sands and dominated by Baikiaea plurijuga, also known as
'teak' woodland. In the subcontinent mainly found in north-eastern
Namibia, northern Botswana and north-western Zimbabwe.
Banding: A research activity in which birds are captured, examined,
measured, and banded by having a metal band placed around their leg.
Each band has a unique number, so if the bird is ever recaptured or
recovered, data can be shared with the original banding station.
Basic plumage: In most bird species, the plumage worn during the nonbreeding season; often less strikingly patterned or coloured than
breeding (or alternate) plumage.
Basypterygoid process: Protrusion of skull that prevents pterygoid bones from being
disarticulated (e.g. in parrots).
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.
Belly band: A streak across the a bird's belly that is either
lighter or darker than the main belly colour.
Bib: Informal term for a distinctly pigmented area of the throat,
usually a dark patch.
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
Binocular vision: Having eyes facing the front of the head so the
animal can focus both eyes on an object. Most predators have this
type of vision. It helps them be more accurate hunters.
Biotope: A particular area which is substantially uniform in its
environmental conditions and its flora and fauna.
Bolus: Soft ball of processed food.
Brachystegia woodland: A broadleaved deciduous woodland type, dominated by leguminous
Brachystegia trees (belonging to the Pea family); also known as
miombo woodland. In the subcontinent mainly found in Zimbabwe and
Bracken: The robust fern Pteridium aquilinum that forms dense thickets in
montane grassland and forest margins.
Brackish: Characterized by a mixture of salt and fresh water, as
found in tidal areas such as bays, lagoons, and marshes.
Breast: Section of a bird’s underparts below the throat and before
the belly. Front part of the chest.
Breast band: A contrasting band across the breast.
Breast spot: The breast spot is a small area of contrasting
colour on the breast.
Breeding endemic: Species that breeds only in southern Africa, but migrates (at least
partially) outside the region in non-breeding season.
Brood parasite: A species that lays its eggs in the nests of other species, which
then incubate the eggs and raise the young; the southern African
obligate brood parasites are the honeyguides, cuckoos, indigobirds,
whydahs and Cuckoo Finch, although some level of facultative
interspecific brood parasitism also occurs in some other groups,
e.g. waterfowl in the genus Oxyura to which the Maccoa Duck belongs,
and intraspecific brood parasitism can also be common, e.g. in
colonially nesting weavers.
Brood parasite: Bird that lays its eggs in the nest(s) of other (foster or host)
species (e.g. honeyguides, cuckoos, indigobirds, whydahs).
Brood patch: An area on the belly where feathers are shed at the onset of
breeding, forming a bare, featherless patch, which is well supplied
with blood vessels and used to cover the eggs during incubation.
Brood reduction: Process (several mechanisms) whereby number of eggs/chicks is
reduced, producing fewer, but healthier offspring.
Brow line: Line extending from the eye to the base of the maxilla.
Bushveld: An informal, general habitat description referring to areas with
mixed trees of moderate height (5 - 10 m), where the trees
frequently touch each other below canopy height; sometimes in dense
thickets and usually with a grassy groundcover.
Cainism: Process in which older (first-hatched) chick kills younger sibling
Call: A usually brief vocalization birds use for contact, alarm, or
warning or to solicit feeding, copulation, or gathering.
A well-defined patch of colour or bare skin on the top of the head.
Carnivorous: Flesh-eating birds (usually fresh or live as
opposed to carrion). Raptors (hawks and owls) are carnivorous birds.
Carpal joint: The joint found between the 'arm' (ulna/radius) and the 'hand'
(carpometacarpus) of the wing.
Carpal patch: A well-defined patch of colour on the underwing in the
vicinity of the carpal joint.
Caruncle: Fleshy growth on head.
Casque: Horny ridge on upper mandible of horn bills.
(of tail moult) From the centre outwards.
(of tail moult) From outside inwards.
Cere: Bare wax-like or fleshy structure at the base of the bill; found in
raptors, doves and parrots; (See Operculum).
Cheek: Located between the lore, eye, auricular and the lower
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. Informal term for
the uppermost part of a bird’s throat, adjacent to the mandible.
Clinal: Showing gradual change in a character from one end of a
species’ (or population’s) range to the other; this change typically
is correlated with an environmental gradient, and forms at the
endpoints may appear strikingly different.
Cline: Gradual geographic change in size or colour or other biological
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
Cloacal kiss: This term is analogous to sexual intercourse in
humans. It is used to describe copulation between birds.
Cock's nest: Open, nest-like structure added to ball-shaped nest (e.g. to roof
of waxbill nest); function may be to decoy predators from true nest
or to provide male with roost site.
Collar: Similar to the upper part of the human neck, located
at the back of the crown. A well-defined band of colour that
encircles or partly encircles the neck.
Colony: In birds, usually a group of the same species nesting
together in close proximity; some birds, especially terns, herons,
and egrets, nest in colonies comprised of several species, and some
birds nest in widely scattered colonies.
Colour morph: Different plumage colour and pattern, usually without intermediates,
within a single interbreeding population, unrelated to season, sex
or age (and less correctly also known as 'colour phase'), e.g.
Mountain Wheatear and Olive Bush Shrike.
Comb: Only found in male birds and consists of a coloured
area over the eye. A well developed comb can also signal (sexual)
health to a potential mate.
Commensal: Living together with another animal or plant from which benefit
(e.g. food, protection) is derived.
Commissure: Base of the bill where the mandibles join; gape, rictus.
Congener: Species grouped in the same genus.
Conspecific: Member of the same species.
Contour feathers: Outer feathers forming external outline of bird (including flight
Cooperative breeding: Breeding system in which breeding pair is assisted (in nest-building
and/or incubation and/or chick-rearing) by one or more 'helpers',
often related to breeding pair.
Cosmopolitan: Having a nearly worldwide distribution.
Coverts: Smaller feathers covering the bases of larger wing and tail feathers
(remiges and rectrices), both above and below, as well as the ear
Covey: Group of game birds, especially smaller species such as
Cowl: Informal term for a distinctly pigmented area of plumage that
appears to drape from the upperparts to the sides of the breast.
Crèche: Group of precocial young birds of the same age from multiple
nests in a colony; pelicans, terns, cormorants, and eiders of some
species “pool” their young in crèches at an early stage.
Crepuscular: Active at dawn and dusk, i.e. in twilight.
Crest: Group of crown feathers that show a peak or elongation;
adults of some species are always obviously crested, while others
may raise a small crest only when alarmed.
Crissum: The feathers in a triangular area on the underside
of a bird between its vent and the base of its tail feathers.
Crop: A sac inside a bird where its neck meets the body. It
holds food before digestion.
Crown: The crown is the top part of the birds head.
Cryptic: Secretive in habits and/or having protective colouring or
camouflage, e.g. plumage of larks matching the substrate.
Culmen: The ridge along the top of the bill from tip to base of feathers at
Culminicorn: In albatrosses and some tubenose allies, a distinct
bill plate that lies along the culmen up to the nail.
Dambo: Seasonal, grassy wetlands that are found along drainage lines in
woodland such as Brachystegia. Term usually applied only in
Zimbabwe, Mozambique and further north in Africa. (See Vlei).
Decurved: Curved downwards (e.g. bill of sunbird or ibis).
Dentate: Toothed or serrated.
(of flight feather moult) From the inside of a feather tract
outwards (e.g. P1 to P10).
Desmognathous: Palate in which maxillopalatine bones are fused, as in ducks and
Diagnostic: An identification character, or suite of characters, unique to a
taxon and hence of great value in confirming identification.
Diffuse: Dispersed or spread widely, referred to here in the context of
Dihedral: When a bird in flight holds its wings such that
they appear to form a “V” shape they are called dihedral. (e.g. as wings of soaring Bateleur or harrier).
Dimorphic: With two distinct forms or colour morphs.
Dimorphism: The occurrence of two distinct types of morphology within a taxon,
e.g. in size, shape, plumage colour and/or patterns, e.g. between
the sexes of the same species ('sexual dimorphism').
Discontinuous: Geographically separate (in reference to distribution).
Disjunct: Geographically widely separated (in reference to distribution).
Dispersal: Movement of young bird away from its birthplace.
Displacement activity: Behaviour performed out of context, usually in response to stress.
Display: Innate, stylized activity or signal through which birds
(of coloration) Patterned to break up outline to enhance camouflage
(e.g. stripes in downy plumage of precocial young).
Distal: Away from the body (e.g. wing tip is distal to carpal joint) (see
Distribution: The geographic area(s) where a given species of
bird can be found.
Diurnal: Used to describe birds that are active during the
day. Most birds are diurnal.
Dominance: The ability of one bird to control the actions of
Dominance hierarchy: Order of dominance among individuals or species in a group.
Donga: Erosion gully, usually with vertical sides.
Dorsal: Pertaining to the upperside of the body; in birds, refers
especially to the tail, back, and wings.
Dorsoventral: From top to bottom, i.e. from back to belly.
Double-brooded: Lays second clutch in one breeding season after rearing first brood
Dread: Erratic mass flight (e.g. of sandpipers).
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.
(of moult) Erratic, in no fixed sequence.
Eclipse plumage: Short-lived, drab non-breeding plumage acquired by some if sunbirds
Edge Effect: The tendency of birds and other animals to be more
numerous at the boundaries of ecological types than in the interior.
Edgings or edges: Outer feather margins, which can frequently result
in distinct paler or darker panels of colour on wings or tail.
Egg-dumping: Laying of egg(s) in nest of conspecific or other species.
Emarginated: Pertaining to a primary feather that is notched or abruptly
narrowed, usually near the tip.
Endemic: Species whose normal breeding and non-breeding ranges are contained
entirely within southern Africa.
Ephemeral: Refers to wetlands that remain dry for long periods, only filling
during periods of high rainfall, e.g. Nylsvley wetland, Limpopo
Erythrism: Chestnut-red replaces black or brown plumage pigments.
Escarpment: The steep face of a tilted plateau. In southern Africa usually
refers to the eastern escarpment, which forms the edge of the inland
plateau or highveld.
Estuary: Passage of the lower course of a river where its current
meets the tides and the water is brackish.
Etymology: The study of the origins and history of words or names and how they
Eutrophic: Rich in nutrients, usually applied to (polluted) wetlands.
Exotic: Introduced from another part of the world (i.e. not indigenous). The
word 'alien' or 'alien invasive' a better term and more commonly
Extralimital: Beyond the borders of the geographical area under review (eg. in a
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 colour from the rest of the face.
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 arc: Area of pale, arc-shaped plumage above and/or below the
eye; thicker than “eye crescent.”
Eyebrow: Also called the supercilicum or superciliary it is
the arch of feathers over each eye.
Eye-comb: Thick, fleshy growth above the eye in certain galliforms;
most noticeable when males are displaying or agitated but also seen
in females of many species.
Eye crescent: Narrow area of contrasting plumage above and/or below
the eye, of almost even thickness.
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.
Eye line: Line formed by dark plumage that extends through or behind
the eye; also called an “eye stripe”
Eye patch: Area of dark plumage around the eye.
Eye ring: Area of contrasting plumage encircling the eye (compare
Face: The front part of the head consisting of the bill,
eyes, cheeks and chin.
Facial discs: Rounded, earlike areas on the face; ears.
Facultative movements: In birds, movements made in response to
pressures or stresses in the immediate environment, such as food
crop failures, drought, cold, or snow cover (compare “migration”).
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 spur, such
as in the chicken.
Feral: Describes a species that has escaped from captivity and now exists
as a self-sustaining 'wild' population (e.g. Rose-ringed Parakeet).
Field Mark: A characteristic or combination of
characteristics such as colour, shape, or specific marking (eye
rings, wing bars, breast stripes), by which a species of bird can be
distinguished from other species Camouflage: Having a colour and/or
pattern that allows a bird to blend with its habitat.
Filoplume: A thin, hair-like feather.
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 coloured stripes on the flanks.
Fledge: To grow a first set of contour feathers (as opposed to a
coat of downy feathers), or juvenal plumage.
Fledgling: Bird that has fledged (acquired juvenal plumage) and left
the nest; most birds begin to become independent of their parents at
this time (compare “nestling”), although precocial birds leave the
nest as downy chicks, long before acquiring their first set of
Flight call: Call used chiefly by flying birds, thought to function
as a contact call among members of the same species, especially
during nocturnal migration.
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
Floater: Itinerant non-breeding birds.
Flock: A group of birds made up of either the same or
Floodplain: The area inundated when a river is in flood. These areas tend to
become progressively wider the closer the river gets to the sea.
Food chain/Food web: The interrelationships among animals and
plants concerning the transfer of energy (food). Birds are part of
the food chain because they feed on plants and animals and are fed
upon by other animals (sometimes other birds).
Food larder: Site where birds store food (e.g. shrikes storing insects on thorns
or barbed-wire fences).
Food pass: Aerial food presentation by raptor, from male to female.
Foot-trembling: Rapid vibration of toes against or in substratum (to disturb or
Forecrown: Foremost part of the crown; a smaller area than the
Forehead: Part of the face above the eyes.
Foreneck: Also called the jugulum or throat patch, it is
located on the front of the neck.
Fringes: Complete feather margins, which can frequently result in a
scaly appearance to body feathers or wing-coverts.
Frons: The forehead or feathered front of the crown, immediately above the
base of the upper bill.
Frontal shield: The area where the bill extends onto the
forehead of the bird. It is often brightly coloured and is meant to
grab the attention of other birds.
Frontlet: Small area of distinctly delineated plumage near the
foremost portion of the forehead.
Frugivorous: Birds that feed primarily on fruit. Cedar
Waxwings are frugivorous birds.
Furcular sac: Pouch of skin lying just in front of the sternum that
can be inflated to produce sounds in a few species.
Fynbos: A distinctive habitat in the winter rainfall region of the Western
Cape and extending east to about Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape,
characterised by evergreen dwarf shrubs with hard, needle-shaped
leaves and an abundance of proteas, ericas and restios.
Gape tubercle (or flange): Colourful outline to gape of chick, presumably to guide adult when
Gape: The fleshy base of the beak, which is often cream, yellow or orange
in young birds. Also called commissure, it is the hinge where the
Gens (pl gentes):
(of brood parasites with multiple hosts) Group of birds all of whom
Genus (pl. genera): A taxonomic category between family and species, i.e. a group of
closely related species.
Geophagy: The practice of eating earth.
Gizzard: Muscular hind part of a bird's stomach, used for grinding food.
Glean: To pick small food items singly, usually with delicate
movements; warblers glean insects from leaves or needle clusters.
Glide: A flight pattern where a bird flies with its wings
outstretched but slightly tucked. Birds of prey often glide in
Gonydeal angle: Cusp on the outer portion of the mandible along the gonys; prominent on some birds, such as gulls.
Gonys: Ridge formed by junction of two rami of lower jaw (near bill tip).
The lower most ridge on the lower mandible.
Gorget: Throat band or broad necklace, e.g. as found in Bar-throated Apalis
or Bokmakierie. A small iridescent patch on the throat of a
Graduated: Decreasing stepwise from long to short, usually used to describe
tail shape, e.g. Fork-tailed Drongo.
Graduated tail: A tail in which the longest feathers are the central
pair and the shortest the outermost, with those in between
intermediate in length.
Granivorous: Eating grain or seeds.
Greater secondary coverts: The feathers overlying the bases
of the secondaries. In some birds, the primary converts are
completely covered by them.
Grit: Small pieces of rock, shell, or other hard substances
that birds eat to help them digest other foods. Grit helps grind up
coarse vegetable matter.
Gular: Of the throat. A gular pouch is distensible skin in the central area
of the throat.
Gular fluttering: Rapid fluttering of thin skin of floor of mouth and upper throat;
used to reduce heat load by evaporative cooling.
Gular pouch: A loose and pronounced area of skin extending from the
throat (e.g. on pelicans or hornbills).
Gular region: The area between the chin and the foreneck.
Gular skin: Bare skin that surrounds the throat in some birds.
Gular stripe: A usually very narrow (and often dark) stripe running
down the centre of the throat.
Habitat: The environment where a particular species of bird
lives. Forests and wetlands are both examples of habitats.
Hackles: Long and pointed neck feathers that can extend across
mantle and wing-coverts.
Hallux: Hind toe (first digit on foot), usually directed backwards,
sometimes reduced (e.g. coucals) or absent (e.g. Ostrich and
Hand: The outer part of the wing, from the carpal joint to the tip
of the wing.
Harem polygyny: Breeding system in which single male has harem of breeding females.
Head stripes: The head stripes are the contrasting coloured
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.
Helper: Non-breeding immature or adult bird that assists breeding pair with
care of their eggs and/or young; often from a previous brood.
Herbivorous: Birds that primarily eat plants.
Heronry: Colonial breeding site of herons or egrets; sometimes applied to
other colonially breeding waterbirds (e.g. ibises).
Heterodactyl: Foot arrangement with toes 1 and 2 pointing backwards, and toes 3
and 4 forwards (e.g. trogons).
Hindcrown: Rear part of the crown, just forward of (above) the nape.
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
Holarctic: The combined northern hemisphere Nearctic and Palearctic
Holotype: The specimen designated by the taxonomist to which the name of a
newly created taxon applies. If there is ever a dispute about the
validity of a taxon, then the holotype is critical in deciding its
status relative to other described taxa.
Humerals: Feathers of the inner portion of the wing that lie along
the humerus (wing bone nearest the body).
Home Range or Territory: The total area a bird inhabits while living
in a given place.
Horns: Paired contour feathers on top of the head of the
Host: The species which incubates the eggs and raises the young of avian
(of foraging) To hover before striking prey aerially or gleaning
Hovering: A technique a bird uses for various reasons,
including to search for food. To hover, a bird remains stationary in
mid-air, usually by rapidly flapping its wings.
Hybrid: Offspring resulting from the breeding of different species
(compare “Intergrade”); certain bird species, including gulls,
orioles, hummingbirds, and sapsuckers, regularly or occasionally
Hyoid apparatus: Bony or cartilaginous structure that supports and extends tongue.
'Over eating' by migratory birds during pre-departure fattening;
onset driven by hormones.
Immature: All plumages that occur between the first ('juvenile') plumage and
the final adult plumage (= 'sub-adult'). These birds are usually
independent of adults.
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
In pin: Feather emerged from skin, but still contained within shaft.
Intergrade: Offspring resulting from the breeding of different
subspecies (compare “hybrid”).
Indigenous: Native to a geographical area (ie. not alien or introduced).
Insectivorous: Birds that eat mainly insects. Swallows are a
Inselberg: Isolated, usually steep-sided hill or mountain rising from a plain.
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 Centre (NODC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Intertidal zone: Area of a shoreline between the low- and high-tide
Intra-African migrant: Bird that migrates entirely within Africa, e.g. Lesser Striped
Iridescence: Glossy colouration created by the reflectance or refraction of light
on feathers and related to feather structure; not a pigment colour.
Iris (plural irides): The iris is the coloured part of the eye, equal to the
human iris, located around the pupil.
Irruption: A temporary influx into an area, usually brought about by more
favourable conditions in that region, or unfavourable conditions in
the species' usual range, e.g. following a drought. White-crested Helmetshrike, Lark-like Bunting and Harlequin Quail are good
examples of irruptive species.
Isabelline: Greyish yellow.
Isohyet: Line (on map) connecting sites of equal rainfall.
Jizz (or Gizz):
The concept that bird watchers can accurately identify birds by
their general aspect and behavior rather than by any specific field
marks (Jizzing or Gizzing).
Jugulum: Front part of the neck; foreneck, throat, throat
Juvenal plumage: A bird’s first covering of contour feathers; it is
often brown or streaked.
Juvenile: A young bird still in first plumage, ie. the plumage with which it
Karoo: A semi-arid habitat of central and western South Africa consisting
of low woody dwarf shrubs and little grass, on a largely stony
Keet: Young guineafowl.
Kettle: A group of birds circling on the same thermal. So named
because the birds look like a boiling kettle.
Kite: In bird flight, to hang in one position while facing into the
wind with minimal or no flapping.
Kleptoparasitise: To steal food from another individual.
Kloof: A gully or ravine (often densely wooded), usually on a mountainside.
Knee: The joint in the middle part of the leg, in the same
location as the human knee.
Koppie: A small hill, often with a rocky summit.
Krill: Marine plankton of the Order Euphausiacea.
Lacustrine: Of a lake.
Lagoon: Sheltered, shallow body of water separated from deeper, more
Lamella (pl. lamellae): Comb-like projections along edge of bill, designed for filtering
minute food organisms from water or soft mud.
Lanceolate: Pointed feather, like the head of a spear.
Lateral: On the side.
'Little Brown Jobs', a collective term for drab and difficult to
identify species such as warblers, cisticolas and pipits.
Leading edge of wing: The leading edge of the wing is the
first from a frontal position when the bird is in flight.
Leaf-gleaner: Small birds that forage in trees searching for invertebrate prey,
e.g. apalises and eremomelas. Other 'gleaners' are adapted to
different niches; these include bark gleaners (e.g. Spotted
Lectotype: A type specimen that is designated from a syntype series.
Leg: Proportionally the bird’s legs are extremely strong in
order for it to be able to land and take off without getting
Leguminous: Belonging to the Fabaceae or pea family.
Lek: Assembly of females of some polygynous species in a display arena
visited by males to select potential mates.
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.
Leucism: Failure to express the normal feather colouring pigments resulting
in areas of white plumage to a greater or lesser extent but not
affecting other body parts, e.g. skin and eye colour; distinct from
albinism which invariably effects the entire plumage as well as
skin, eye colour, etc.
Lift: Upward force exerted on a wing due to air flow across its
Littoral: Regions situated adjacent to the coast.
Local: Occurring or common within a small or restricted area.
Lores: Area between the base of the bill and the eye; may be bare or
Lower mandible: The lower part of the bill.
Lower mandibular tomia: The cutting edge of the lower
Lowveld: The low-lying (<900 m asl) eastern part of southern Africa, mostly
Of the cheeks. Small group of feathers, sometimes
distinctively coloured, that extends from the base of the bill
downward and slightly backward along the throat (see Submalar
Malar stripe: Line from base of bill down sides of throat, often forming
distinctive stripe in birds.
Mandible: The lower half of the bill (upper bill = maxilla).
Mandibular ramus: A prong-like projection from the bill on
the posterior side.
Mangrove: Trees or shrubs of the genera Rhizophora and
Avicennia that form
swamps in the intertidal area mainly along tropical coasts and have
tangled roots that grow above ground forming dense thickets.
Feathers forming a covering of the upper back.
Manus: The wing from the radius and ulna outwards.
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.
Mask: Black or dark area that encloses the eyes or ear coverts and part of the face.
Mast: The nuts of forest trees accumulated on the ground.
Maxilla: The upper half of the bill; sometimes called “upper
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.
Melanism: Excess of melanin, making bird appear black or blackish.
Melanistic: Tending to be black or blackish, resulting from an excess of the
dark pigment melanin in the feathers.
Mesic: Opposite of 'arid'. Areas of reasonably high rainfall, creating mesic grassland or mesic savanna.
Mesoptile: The second of two down plumages of nestling.
Migration: Repeated movement, usually annual, predictable in space and time.
Migratory: With seasonal geographical movement between two areas.
(See also Nomad and Irruption).
Miombo: A broadleaved deciduous woodland type of Leguminous trees (belonging
to the pea family); also known as Brachystegia woodland. In the
subcontinent mainly found in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Mirror: White spot near tip of flight feather of large, dark-backed gull.
Mob: In birds, to gather around a perched predator (or pursue a
flying predator) while calling vigorously (“scolding”) and sometimes
making swooping flights to strike; mixed flocks of small birds will
often mob an owl in daylight.
Molt: The process by which a bird renews part or all of its
plumage by shedding old, worn feathers and growing new ones.
Monogamy: The condition of having only one mate during a breeding
season or during the breeding life of a pair.
Monogamous: mating exclusively with one individual for a given
amount of time.
Monophyletic: Group of species that includes the most recent common ancestor of
all its members and all descendants of that ancestor. A monophyletic
group is called a clade.
Monotypic genus: A genus with only one species.
Monotypic species: A species without any subspecies.
Montane: Referring to mountainous country.
Mopane: A broadleaved, deciduous tree, Colophospermum mopane. Forms a dense
woodland in some regions (e.g. northern Kruger National Park);
stunted on poorly drained soils but reaches a canopy height of 15-20
m in suitable areas.
A distinct plumage type that occurs alongside one or more other
distinct plumage types exhibited by the same species.
Morphology: Size and shape of external features, e.g. plumage, bill, etc.
Moult: The process of shedding old feathers and replacing them with new
Moustache/Mustache: Also called a malar streak, stripe or
whisker it is the contrasting colour on each side of the chin down
through the throat area.
Moustachial crescent: Distinct area of dark plumage forming a curve
along the lower border of the auriculars above the malar and
somewhat resembling a mustache (as in Prairie Warbler).
Mouth: The mouth is similar in function to the human mouth
and refers to the cavity bounded by the bill.
Mouth spot: Spot (usually several) that forms part of characteristic pattern
inside mouths of nestlings.
Msasa: A common tree in miombo woodland; Brachystegia spiciformis.
Mudflat: Area of mud along rivers, lakes, or other water bodies
usually exposed by receding tides or by drought; often important
habitat for foraging shorebirds and waterbirds.
Multi(ple)-brooded: Laying more than two clutches in one breeding season after
successfully rearing earlier broods.
Myiasis: Infestation with dipteran larvae (e.g. maggots).
Nail: Distinct horny plate at the end of the maxilla or mandible,
most pronounced and obvious in larger tubenoses (in the order Procellariiformes).
Nape: Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of
the neck where the head joins the body.
Nasal canthus: Anterior corner of eye.
Nasal fossa: The depression in which the bird’s nostril is
Natal philopatry: Return to natal area to breed.
Nearctic: Zoogeographic region covering North America, Canada and Greenland
(Iceland IS linked to Palearctic).
Near-endemic: Species whose range extends only marginally outside southern Africa.
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.
Nectivorous: Birds that feed largely on the nectar of flowers
or the juices of fruit, such as hummingbirds.
Neossoptile: The first of two down plumages of nestling.
Nestling: A young bird not yet ready to leave nest.
Nest-stained: Refers to eggs, especially of waterbirds, that become stained by
damp plant material used for building nest.
New World: The Americas; the western hemisphere.
Niche: The role a bird plays in the ecosystem, including what
it eats and where it lives (habitat).
Nictitating membrane: The third eyelid of the bird that can
be closed for protection. It has its own moisturizing system similar
to tear ducts.
Nidicolous: Describes a young bird that remains in nest after hatching (see
Nidifugous: Describes a young bird that leaves the nest immediately after
hatching (the term semi-nidifugous refers to those that leave within
a few days) (see Precocial).
Nocturnal: Used to describe birds that are active at night.
Most owls are nocturnal.
Nomad: A species with no fixed territory, that wanders widely when not
breeding, e.g. Lark-like Bunting.
Nomadic: Of variable, often erratic movement with regard to time and area.
Nominate subspecies (race): The original (first) taxon of a polytypic species to be described,
in which the sub specific name mirrors the species name, e.g. Passer domesticus domesticus for the nominate subspecies of House Sparrow.
Non-native Species: Birds that have introduced or have been
released from or have escaped captivity, eg. The Common (Indian)
Non-passerine: All orders other than Passeriformes.
Nostril: The nostrils are the two small openings on the top
of the bill; External naris.
Nuchal collar: A collar across the hind neck, e.g. as seen on Cape Turtle Dove
(Ring necked Dove).
Nuchal crest: Crest positioned on the nape, e.g. Cuckoo Hawk.
Occipital plumes: The breeding or ornamental feathers (plumes) originating from the
crown/nape of egrets.
Occiput: Rear portion of crown; hindhead.
Ocelli: Eye-like spots of iridescent colour eg. the Emerald-spotted
Offshore waters: Open ocean waters, rather than nearshore waters;
also called “pelagic waters” (see also Pelagic).
Old World: The part of the world that was known to Europeans before Columbus'
discovery of the Americas; Europe, Asia and Africa.
Oligotrophic: Low in nutrients, with low productivity.
Omentum (pl. omenta): Fold in dorsal portion of membrane lining abdominal cavity.
Omnivorous: Eating both plant and animal foods of many kinds,
eating anything that is considered digestible/edible. Crows are a
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 coloured such as one can observe in
pigeons, parrots and birds of prey. It is also called the cere.
Orbital ring: Ring of often brightly coloured bare skin encircling
Ornithologist: Scientist who studies birds.
Ortstreue: Fidelity to non-breeding site.
Oscines: Collective term for a suborder (Passeri) of the
songbirds (passerines); (see also Suboscines).
Ossuary: Accumulation of bones and fur that may surround nest of some
ground-nesting owls. Also open rocky area on which bones are dropped
by Bearded Vultures.
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
Outer wing: The alula and the primary feathers.
Palearctic: The zoogeographical region which includes Europe, North Africa and
northern Asia east to eastern Siberia.
Pamprodactyl: Foot arrangement with all four toes directed forwards (e.g. swifts);
toe 1 sometimes reversible (e.g. mousebirds).
(applied to two or more species) Having ranges that abut, but do not
Paratype: A specimen forming part of the original series collected in a
locality from which a single specimen, or holotype, has been
selected as the type of a species; may be collected at any time
subsequent to the description of the species.
Partial albinism: Most common form of albinism, in which colour pigments are lacking
in parts of plumage and/or soft parts, producing patchy appearance.
Partial migrant: A term applied to a species in which only part of the population
Passage migrant: Birds passing through on migration from one point to another, but
not stopping over, or only stopping briefly.
(in reference to migration) The active movement of migrating birds,
often in large numbers.
Passerines (Passeriformes): The largest and most recently evolved order of birds; includes the
'songbirds' that are characterised by a complex syrinx (voice-box)
or 'perching birds' that have feet adapted for perching, with three
toes facing forward and one facing backward (anisodactyl). In the
current Southern African order, all the birds from the broadbills
and pittas onwards.
Patagial mark or patch: Dark patch on leading edge of underside of
Patagium: Expandable membranous fold of skin between body and leading edge of
Pause-travel technique: Foraging technique whereby bird walks forward, then pauses to search
for prey (e.g. plovers).
Peck Order: The rank of the several members of a social hierarchy;
arrangement according to dominance.
Pectinate: Comb-like; bearing numerous tooth-like projections as in the middle
claw of nightjars.
Pectoral patch: A well-defined dark area of plumage on either side of the breast,
e.g. Red-capped Lark.
Pelagic: Oceanic, living far from land except when nesting, e.g. albatrosses.
Peripheral vision: Having eyes located more on the side of the head,
which increases visibility to the side and behind. Most prey animals
have peripheral vision.
Permanent Resident: A species of bird that does not migrate
and so spends the entire year in the same region.
Phenology: The study of patterns of events in nature, especially in the weather
and in the behaviour of plants and animals.
Phenotype: Observable physical properties of an organism.
Phylogeny: The patterns of evolutionary history and inter-relationships of a
group of taxa, usually depicted in a tree-like diagram
Pinnae: Elongated feathers projecting from the upper body
area, generally the neck or head.
Pipping: Stage at which chick first breaks through shell of egg.
Piscivorous: Fish-eating birds. The Osprey is piscivorous.
Pishing: Giving vocal imitations of parid calls (that sound a bit
like steam escaping in quick bursts) to attract woodland birds.
The feathers that cover a bird's body.
Plumes: Large, conspicuous, showy, feathers.
Plume: A long, showy display feather, e.g. in nesting egrets.
Plunge-dive: To dive on aquatic prey from the air.
Podotheca: Horny covering of unfeathered part of leg.
Pollex: Innermost digit of forelimb.
Polyandry (adj. polyandrous): Simultaneous mating of one female with two or more males, e.g.
Polychromatic: Haying many colour morphs.
Polygamy (adj. polygamous): A mating system in which an individual will have more than one
sexual partner; polyandry and polygyny are specific variants of
Polygyny: Breeding system in which one male mates with more than one female.
Females usually undertake all parental care.
Polymorphic: Having two (then called dimorphic) or more distinct colour morphs
within a species, independent of age, sexual, seasonal or subspecific variation, e.g. Mountain Wheatear.
Polynya: Area of open water surrounded by sea ice.
Polytypic: Having two or more taxonomic divisions; usually applies to those
species divisible into two or more subspecies. (See also Monotypic).
Population: The total number of individuals of a single
species inhabiting a given area.
Post-orbital process: Small forward-pointing notch in skull behind eye.
Precocial: Describes young bird that is active from hatching and leaves nest
soon afterwards (see Altricial).
Predation: When one animal kills another for food. The animal
that is taken is the prey, and the animal doing the taking is the
Preening: The process by which a bird cleans, arranges, and
cares for its feathers, usually by using its bill to adjust and
Primaries: The long outer flight feathers of the wing, usually numbering ten in
all, attached to the 'hand' and which together with the secondaries
form the remiges (flight feathers).
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
Primary projection: The extent to which folded primaries project beyond tertials.
Primary shaft: The stiff central axis of the primary feather,
sometimes distinctly visible in flying birds if the feather color is
Proventriculus: Forepart of the stomach, between the oesophagus and the gizzard.
Proximal: Towards the body (e.g. carpal joint is proximal to wing tip) (see
Pupil: Contractile aperture in iris.
Subspecies, a geographical population whose members all show
constant differences (e.g. in plumage or size) from those of other
populations of the same species.
Rachis: The central shaft of a feather.
Range: Geographic area typically occupied by a species.
Raptor: Birds with strongly hooked beaks and sharp talons for catching and
tearing prey. Usually used with reference to the diurnal birds of
prey (Falconiformes), but applies also to owls (Strigiformes).
Generally hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls. These birds prey upon
Mammals, smaller birds, and other animals. A bird of prey.
Rectrix (pl. rectrices): Tail feather.
(of bill) Upcurved (e.g. as Pied Avocet and Terek Sandpiper).
Remex: (pl. remiges): Flight feathers (primaries and secondaries) of the wing.
Remiges: Refers to the flight feathers-primaries,
secondaries, and tertials.
Renosterveld: Dwarf shrubland associated with low-lying areas in the fynbos biome,
usually dominated by renosterbos Elytropappus rhinocerotis.
Restio: Sedge-like plants in the family Restionaceae, which are components
Rectrices: The principal feathers that make up the tail. They
range in number from eight to twenty-four.
Resident: Usually non-migratory and present throughout the year.
Rhamphotheca: Keratinised outer layer of bill.
Rictal bristles: Specialised stiff, whisker-like protrusions about the base of the
bill, e.g. in nightjars.
Rictus: Base of the bill where the mandibles join; gape, commissure.
Riparian: Of or on river banks.
Roost: A place where a bird sleeps, sometimes in groups.
Ruff: A fringe of feather growth on the neck of a male bird
used in courtship displays.
Rump: The area between the lower back and base of the tail.
Sahel: Semi-desert zone immediately south of the Sahara Desert.
Saltpan: Shallow basin in a desert region containing salt and gypsum
deposited by an evaporated salt lake; also a flat area of dry or
drying salt water that opens or once opened onto tidal water.
Savanna: Lightly wooded habitat with a grassy understorey, typically
dominated by Acacia, Rhus, Commiphora and Euclea tree species.
Informally referred to as 'bushveld'.
Scansorial: Adapted to or specialized for locomotion by climbing,
especially on tree trunks.
Scapular: Feathers situated on the upperparts between the mantle and the wing
coverts. Short feathers in the area where the bird’s back and wings
Scree: Loose rock debris covering a slope.
Scrub: Dry habitat (also called “scrubland”) characterized by short
or stunted vegetation, sometimes but not always with heavy
Secondaries: Inner long flight feathers of the wing attached to the ulna ('arm'),
which together with the primaries form the remiges (flight
Secondary coverts: The feathers that cover and protect the
Sedentary: Used to describe birds that are resident in the same place
Semi-precocial: Referring to chicks that hatch open-eyed, covered
with down, and capable of leaving the nest soon, but which stay at
the nest and are fed by parents (as in tern and gull chicks).
Serial polygyny: A polygamous breeding system in which one male mates with several
females in succession.
Sexual dichromatism: Condition in which male and female of same species have markedly
Sexual dimorphism: Where male and female of the same species differ in morphology,
including size, shape, plumage pattern or colour, or sometimes a
combination of these, e.g. Stonechat.
Shaft: The main stem (rachis) of any feather.
Shaft streak: A fine line of pale or dark colour in the plumage,
produced by the feather shaft.
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.
Shrubland: Vegetation dominated by short woody plants less than 2 m tall.
Siblicide: Killing of one chick by another to reduce competition for food (see
Sibling species: Species that are very closely related to one another and have the
same immediate ancestor (in some cases possibly to the extent that
their recognition as distinct taxa is not warranted).
Side: The area between the belly, the wing and back, It is
equivalent to the area between the human armpit and the hip bone.
Refers to birds that, after successfully rearing a first brood, do
not attempt to nest again in the same season (see Double-brooded,
Faithfulness to a particular site.
Soar: A flight pattern where the bird "rides the wind" with its
wings fully spread.
Soft parts: Unfeathered areas of the body - bill, eyes, legs, feet and any bare
skin, wattles, etc.
Song: Vocalization used mostly by male birds to attract a mate or to
define and defend a territory (compare “Call”).
Spatulate: Shaped like a spoon or a spatula.
Speciation: The process through which new species evolve from those
Species: The taxonomic rank below genus. A population of organisms that
interbreed freely with one another, or are judged likely to
interbreed freely with one another were they to be in geographical
contact, but which do not normally interbreed with other species,
and which usually also differ consistently in morphological or
genetic features from other species.
Spectacles: Informal term for a combination of contrastingly
pigmented lores and eye rings, which resemble eyeglass frames.
Speculum: Iridescent, reflective dorsal patch on the secondaries of a duck's
wing, best seen in flight; contrasts with the rest of the wing.
Spectacle: The spectacle refers to the combination of the eye
ring and supraloral line.
Spermatogenesis: The process of sperm formation.
Spish: To attract birds by making hissing noise between teeth. Birds
attracted either out of curiosity or because noise resembles alarm
call, signalling the presence of, e.g., snake or owl.
Spur: Sharp bony projection on the shoulder of the wing or the leg (rear
of the tarsus).
Staffelmauser (= wave moult):
(of flight feathers) With more than one generation of feathers
present, because second (even third or fourth) wave of moult has
started before previous wave(s) has/have finished.
Staging area: Place where large numbers of birds traditionally
gather en route to breeding or sometimes wintering areas, where they
feed and/or roost before continuing onward.
(of foraging) To make multiple rapid probes - with bill (as in many
Stoop: Form of aerial dive in which wings held almost fully closed (e.g.
Strandveld: Tall and dense shrubland along the southern and Western Cape
Striated (noun striations): Streaked, i.e. usually dark marks aligned along a bird's long axis.
Subadult: Bird intermediate in age and plumage between immature and adult.
Submalar mark: Or submalar stripe; mark or line of contrastingly
dark plumage between the malar and the throat feathers.
Subsong: Loose, rambling, quiet song (especially of young birds), often
bearing little similarity to full adult song.
Subspecies: Morphologically and geographically defined populations or 'races'
within a species. The different subspecies of a species interbreed
where (and if) their ranges overlap and for this reason, in these
areas of contact the distinctions between subspecies tend to lose
distinctiveness (zones of intergradation).
Sub-terminal: Just short of the tip of a structure (usually refers to tail).
Subterminal band: The bands of contrasting colour located
just before the tip of the tail.
Subtropical: Relating to areas adjacent to the tropics where summers
are hot but winters are nontropical.
'Eyebrow', or part of the head immediately above the eye; in many
birds marked by a superciliary stripe. The arch of feathers over the
Supercilliary Stripe/Line: Stripe immediately above the eye.
Also called supercilium or eyebrow, it is the arch of feathers over
the eye in the same approximate location as the human eye brow.
Superspecies: One of a group of very closely related Species with non-overlapping
breeding ranges, e.g. as found in some vultures, swifts and batises.
A term no longer used frequently.
Supra-: A prefix meaning 'above', e.g. supraloral lines are those above the
Supraloral line: A contrasting line between the eye and the
Supraorbital ridge: Protruding bony 'eyebrow ridge' (especially in raptors and
Sympatric: Occurring together in the same area. (See also allopatric and
Syndactyl: Toes 3 and 4 fused at the base, e.g. kingfishers and hornbills
(three toes forward, one backwards). In the case of trogons, toes 3
and 4 are forward and fused at the base, and toes 1 and 2 face
backwards. (See Zygodactyl).
Synonym: A different name proposed for the same species or subspecies.
According to the rules of zoological nomenclature, the older name
takes precedence, ie. must be used instead of the later name.
Syntype: Anyone of a series of skins collected in a locality from which the
Type is collected.
Syrinx: The voice box of the bird; located at the lower end of the
Tail: Feathers extending from the rear of the bird and used
for balance and as an asset to attract potential mates.
Tailband: Contrastingly pigmented area of the tail, perpendicular to
the axis of the tail.
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.
Talon: Sharply hooked claw used for holding and killing prey, e.g. in birds
Tarsus (pl. tarsi): The tarsometatarsus; the lower part of the leg of a bird, usually
bare of feathers. The part of the leg between the knee and the foot
of the bird, similar to the lower leg in humans.
Taxon (pl. taxa): A neutral term for any formally established scientific name, at any
level in a taxonomic grouping, e.g. genus, species, subspecies.
Taxonomy (adj. taxonomic): The science of classification of plants and animals according to
their evolutionary relationships.
see Baikiaea woodland.
Temporal canthus: The outer corner of the eye closest to the
Terminal: At the end or tip of a structure.
Terminal band: The terminal band refers to the contrasting
stripe at the tip of the tail.
Terrestrial: Living on land (not aquatic or arboreal).
Territoriality: Behavior pattern in birds concerned with the
occupation and defense of a territory, often characterized by
intensive singing and clashes with rivals.
Territory: Area occupied by a single bird, mated pair, or group and
often vigorously defended against intruders, especially those of the
innermost flight feathers on a bird's 'upper arm' (humerus). Often
applied incorrectly to modified, conspicuous inner secondaries, e.g.
those of pipits. The third set of flight feathers located closest to
Thermal: A rising column of warm air, often found above rock
outcrops, areas of rock or sand or burnt areas of land.
Thicket: A number of shrubs or low trees growing very close together, usually
with a bare understorey. In the steep river valleys of the Eastern
Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, thicket-type vegetation is often dominant
and has recently been recognised as a distinct biome.
Throat: Area of the underparts bounded by the malars and the breast.
Throat patch: Feathers of a contrasting colour found on the
Tibia: Part of the leg above the knee.
Tideline: Area where two different water masses or currents meet,
often concentrating nutrients, prey items, and flotsam.
Toe: The toes are digits 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
spur, such as in the Spurfowl.
Tomial notch: Toothlike serration in the edge of the maxilla, as
seen in shrikes and vireos.
Cutting edge of bill.
Tongue spot: Spot (usually several) that forms part of characteristic pattern on
tongues of nestlings of certain species (e.g. warblers and
Trailing edge: The back or hind edge of a wing or flipper.
Transilient (also random transilient):
(of flight feathers) Moult pattern in which moult proceeds by
forward or backward jumps across one or more adjacent feathers.
Tree line: The elevation in a mountainous region above which trees
do not grow or the northern (or southern) latitude beyond which
trees do not grow; also called “timberline.”
Tremolo: Rapid repetition of a single tone with a tremulous quality,
similar to vibrato in human singing.
Tropics: The region of earth centered on the equator and lying
between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.
Type locality: The location where the type specimen was collected.
Type species: The nominal species that is the type of a genus or a subspecies.
Type specimen: The single specimen that is the type of a nominal species or
subspecies. (See also Holotype).
Uapaca (or Uapaca woodland): A group of trees in the
Euphorbia family of plants. In parts of
Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, Uapaca kirkiana forms the
dominant species within the woodland.
Ulnar bar: Area of dark plumage in the underwing coverts that
extends from the humerals to the carpal joint.
Underparts: Under surface of body from throat to under tail coverts.
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.
Updraft: Air that rises when the wind meet a ridge or rock outcrop.
Upper mandibular tomia: The cutting edge of the upper bill.
Upperparts: The dorsal surface of a bird, i.e. the frons, lores, face, crown,
nape, mantle, back, upper wing, rump, base of tail and uppertail.
Uppertail: The dorsal surface of a bird.
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.
Vagrant: A bird found in an area that is not within its usual distribution,
having strayed there by mistake, e.g. through disorientation, or by
Vent: The feathers around the cloacal area (anus, oviduct/sperm-duct
openings) between the belly and the undertail coverts. Birds do not
have two separate cavities for excrement and reproduction like
humans do. In birds, there is one single entrance/exit that suits
both functions called the vent, cloaca or anus.
Ventral: Pertaining to the undersurface of the body (see Underparts).
Vermiculations/Vermiculated: Patterned with dense, fine lines.
Vestigial: Describes a morphological structure or behaviour pattern that is so
reduced through long disuse as to be almost absent.
Vlei: A wetland.
Wattle (adj. wattled): Bare fleshy structure around eye, base of bill, throat or elsewhere
on the head of a bird.
Wetland: Low-lying area, such as a marsh or swamp, that is saturated
with moisture for at least some period of time during a year or
Whisker: Also called the moustache, malar steak or stripe, it
is the contrasting coloured 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
Wing formula: Schematic representation of the relative lengths and shapes of the
primaries of a bird's wing; used to identify some species in the
hand (e.g. Acrocephalus warblers).
Wing lining: The short and softer median, lesser and marginal
coverts on the underwing. The entire underwing-coverts.
Wing-loading: The weight of a bird divided by its wing area.
Wing panel: A pale or dark band across the upperwing (often formed
by pale edges to the remiges or coverts), broader and generally more
diffuse than a wing-bar.
Wingpit: Also called the axillary, is located between the
body and the wing of the bird, similar to the area of the human
Wingspan: The distance between the tips of the spread wings.
Wing stripe: The area at the base of the wing which is made
up of pale or white tips on the flight feathers.
Wrist: The wrist refers to the base of the primaries in the
Wrist comma: A comma shaped mark at the middle joint on a bird's
Xanthochroism (adj. xanthochroic): Abnormal and excessive yellow pigmentation in feathers.
Yard egg: Single egg laid and abandoned (by pelicans and flamingos) in
roosting or loafing area.
Zygodactyl: Toes 2 and 3 pointing forwards, and toes 1 and 4 pointing backwards,
e.g. in woodpeckers, cuckoos, coucals and barbets.