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

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 by illustrator Rosemary Mosco we break down a few of the “birdwords” we enjoy the most. (Mosco took over our Birdword column in 2024; you might also like our archive of pre-2024 Birdwords written by Living Bird staff writers.)


Anting: verb. Using ants, either by allowing them to run through feathers or deliberately rubbing them on feathers, presumably to deter ectoparasites.

Brood Parasite

Brood parasite: n. A bird that lays eggs in the nests of the same or a different species leaving the resulting young to be raised entirely by the host(s).

Regional Heterothermy

Cartoon strip with gulls
Gull 1: Since it's getting colder, I bought some winter boots.
Gull2: You don't need winter boots because we have regional heterothermy!
I take it back. Those boots are amazing!
Gull 1: Thank you.

Regional Heterothermy: n. The capability to let some parts of the body get cold while maintaining core body temperature. Here’s more about how seabirds keep from getting cold feet.

About the Author

Cartoon of woman with animals.
Illustration by Rosemary Mosco.

Rosemary Mosco is an author, illustrator, and speaker whose work connects people with the natural world.

She’s written and drawn for the New York Times, Audubon, the PBS show Elinor Wonders Why, the Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, Ranger Rick, and more. She creates acclaimed science books for kids and adults and makes the nature comic Bird and Moon, which won the National Cartoonists Society’s award for Best Online Short Form Comic and was the subject of an award-winning museum exhibit. Her climate change comics were exhibited at AAAS headquarters and the Peabody Essex Museum. She gives engaging talks and workshops to groups of all ages.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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