Lifers, Bins, & Twitchers: A Guide to Birdwatching Lingo

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Have you ever noticed in birdwatching groups that some of the words and terms people throw around sound like secretly coded messages? That's because they kind of are. Coded-messages to other members of the birding community. The birdwatching community has its own unique set of words, phrases, abbreviations, and acronyms - essentially its own language - that help members better communicate bird-related events, experiences, sightings, and more. The problem? Not everyone knows what a "lifer" is.. and what the heck is a "gashawk"? Let this be your guide to some of the most common birder lingo you're likely to encounter on your birdwatching journeys.

Birders at a local patch using their bins to scope out lifers and mega-rarities.

Bins: Easing into things with a simple abbreviation. Bins is a short form for binoculars.
Example: "I pulled my bins out to scan the field for hawks, but didn't see anything."

BOP: Acronym for bird of prey. Useful when a bird is clearly a raptor, but you're unsure of the species. Alternatively, BOP can also be an action you use when someone scares a bird away (but you didn't hear that from me).
Example: "Judging by the overall shape and flight pattern, I'd say it was some kind of BOP." or "He scared that Eastern Meadowlark so I gave him a good BOP."

Chase: This one seems pretty clear, "chase a bird". But it doesn't reference the act of physically chasing the bird itself, rather going on a long trip in search of a reported rare bird, or species you've wanted to see for a long time.
Example: "I'm so glad I decided to chase that Great Grey Owl - it was worth the 4 hour trip!"

Dip, dipped, dip out: To miss seeing a bird (common or rare) that you really wanted to see; or a rare bird that others saw, but you missed. Dipping is a sure-fire way to spoil a birding trip.
Example: "I can't believe I dipped on that Orchard Oriole.. again!"

Fallout: A fallout, or migration fallout, is when severe weather prevents birds from migrating and grounds them, often in large groups. Birds travelling great distances will not have enough energy to fight strong winds, and will need to remain on the ground to recover until weather conditions change to more preferable flight conditions. Migration fallout is a rare occurrence and is a highly sought after event by birders.
Example: "Did you see the weather forecast for this weekend? We could be looking at a fallout if the winds are strong enough."

Gashawk: One of my personal favourites, 'gashawk' is a term used to describe something in the sky often mistaken for a bird. Airplanes!
Example: "Can you see what that bird is way up there?... False alarm, it's just a gashawk."

GBH: If you see this acronym being used on a birding forum, chances are they aren't referring to the English street punk band, but rather the majestic Great Blue Heron (though they can rock a mohawk just as well).
Example: "I was down at the beach today and spotted a few gulls, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a GBH."

LBJs: Little brown jobs. You know, the little brown birds we see hopping on the ground or flying in and out bushes as we walk down the trail. We know they're birds, we know they're brown, but we just aren't sure what exactly they are.
Example: "I was looking for a Northern Flicker under that spruce but all I could see were a few LBJs."

Lifer: A lifer is a bird species you have never seen before in your life. These birds, whether common or rare, are very exciting for birders of all experience levels.
Example: "Oh wow, I can't believe I had a lifer Red-headed Woodpecker right in my yard!"

Life list: A birder's list of lifers. Whether it be in your head, online, or on paper, a life list is something most birdwatchers keep for their personal knowledge. Sometimes life lists are used in competition between birders who are trying to "out bird" one another, but they're typically listers (see below).
Example: "That was a great outing, I saw quite a few species I can add to my life list."

Lister: Someone who is obsessed with adding species to their life list. This type of birder will travel long distances just to see or hear a new species to add to their list, enjoying the satisfaction of adding a checkmark rather than seeing the bird itself. In a sense, birding is a competition, and listers want to win.
Example: (group of birders watching rare species) "He didn't stay long." .. "Yeah, he just wanted to check it off. Total lister."

Mega-rarity: The find of all finds.. a mega-rare bird. Mega-rarities are highly sought after species that are at the top of all birders' lists. Similar to seeing a lifer, finding a mega-rarity is an extremely exciting and rewarding experience.
Example: "Did you hear about the Ruff down at the lagoon? Talk about a mega-rarity!" 

Nemesis bird: A nemesis bird is the one that always gets away. Typically a common species, but one that you just can never manage to find. A common nemesis bird among birders is the Black-billed Cuckoo; fairly common in Ontario, but elusive and tough to spot.
Example: "I am so jealous that you got to see a Black-billed Cuckoo! They are my nemesis bird!"

Patch: We all have at least one of these, our favourite birding spots. It might be a local conservation area, a quiet backroad, or even your own property. No matter where your patches may be, they are often kept secret and only shared with a trusted few.
Example: "The weather was perfect for birding yesterday so I headed to my patch to try my luck - it did not disappoint!"

String: Sometimes on birding sites or forums you will see a bird reported that is way out of range, or a mega-rarity that is highly unlikely for a certain area. These reports are sometimes falsified by people to "string" others along. Why do they do it? A funny prank is my best guess. But if you're an unfortunate birder who drives a great distance in hopes of catching a glimpse of a reported bird, you're not going to be laughing when you realize it was never there in the first place.
Example: "Did you see the report of the Little Blue Heron in Barrie?" .. "Yeah, I think that guy was just trying to string us."

Twitcher: Twitchers are birders who will go to great lengths to see birds they have not previously. They will take time off work, travel on short notice, and cancel previous commitments if an opportunity arises to see a new bird. Twitchers are similar to listers, except they tend to have more passion for the hobby itself rather than just adding checks to a list.
Example: "She took time off work and drove 8 hours to see the Northern Hawk Owl last week, most definitely a twitcher!"

Warbler neck: The pain you get at the back of your neck from looking high up in the trees for too long, common when searching for warblers. I can feel it now as warbler season is quickly approaching! Time to break out the heat packs and Tiger Balm.
Example: "Ah man, I knew I should have taken a break from scanning the trees earlier. Warbler neck is going to keep me up all night."

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) - a mega-rarity spotted in the Barrie area in 2018.

There are hundreds of strange terms to learn in the birding world, and new ones emerging all the time. When it comes down to it, if you don't know what something means, just ask. No respectable birder is going to shame you for wanting to learn more about this hobby we are all so passionate about. And if they do, they're probably just listers. 😉

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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