Birdword: An Illustrated Guide to Some Tongue-Twisting Ornithological Terms

September 19, 2018

Birdword is a recurring feature in Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

They’re sometimes called technical terms, eight-dollar-words, jargon, or just plain gobbledygook. But hidden inside those multisyllabic ornithological utterances are keys to fascinating behaviors, time machines to take you back to ancient Greek and Latin, and sly insights to the minds of scientists at work. In this recurring feature, we break down a few of the “birdwords” we enjoy the most:

Bar-tailed Godwit Photos by Jon Irvine via Birdshare. Rhynchokinesis n. [Rhyncho (Gr., beak) + Kinesis (Gr., movement)] A bird’s ability to independently flex its upper bill, a trait most pronounced in long-billed shorebirds and a few other groups such as cranes and hummingbirds. In shorebirds, the action assists with the capture of slippery items when the bill is thrust deep into the sand or mud.
Bar-tailed Godwit photos by Jon Irvine via Birdshare, featured in Living Bird, Autumn 2018.
Rhynchokinesis: n. [rhyncho (Greek, beak) + kinesis (Greek, movement)] A bird’s ability to independently flex its upper mandible, a trait most pronounced in long-billed shorebirds and a few other groups such as cranes and hummingbirds. In shorebirds, the action assists with the capture of slippery items when the bill is thrust deep into the sand or mud.

Allopreening Laysan Albatross by Cliff BeittelAllopreening Laysan Albatrosses by Cliff Beittel, featured in Living Bird, Spring 2017.

Allopreen (v.), allopreening (n.): the grooming of one bird by another of the same species; birds allopreen to clean feathers in hard-to-reach places and to strengthen pair bonds.

Zugunruhe Black-and-white Warbler, Photo: Dan Tallman; Source: Handbook of Bird Biology, Third Edition.Photo by Dan Tallman, Handbook of Bird Biology, Third Edition, featured in Living Bird, Autumn 2016.

Zugunruhe: n. [German] migratory restlessness; when songbirds are ready to migrate, they literally cannot sit still.

 

Pileated Woodpecker by John Fox, Yellow-billed Cuckoo by Lindell Dillon, both via Birdshare. Featured in Living Bird, Winter 2016.

Zygodactyl: adj. [Greek zygo (yoked, or paired) + dactyl (toed)] Having two toes facing forward and two facing backward. A feature of several orders of birds, including cuckoos, woodpeckers, and parrots.