This account briefly helps define some of the ornithological and conservation terms used in this web site.
Accidental An extremely rare transient visitor, synonymous usually with “extremely rare vagrant”. Alludes to the notion that the natural occurrence of the species is by “accident” since these birds often come from very far away influenced by unusual weather conditions or even on board a ship such as a tanker. They are recorded very rarely (for example, less than three times within a decade).
Adult A bird with definitive mature plumage.
Birding The recreational pursuit of watching and recording wild birds. Almost synonymous with birdwatching this is the preferred term used by serious hobbyists who passionately enjoy studying birds. The English term “birder” originally referred to hunter of birds but this is no longer used as such. Birdwatching: Practically synonymous with birding. Some birders consider this rendition of their hobby old-fashioned. Beyond the pastime and hobby of watching birds, the serious study of birds is termed ornithology. Amateurs, be it serious birders or leisure-striving birdwatchers, may contribute greatly to ornithology.
Call A sound uttered by a bird that is unconnected with either courtship or territorial protection. A bird’s alarm call for example is a specific sound made to ward off enemies or to attract attention to a specific danger.
Conservation status Relating to the scientific assessment of a bird’s population condition or how threatened or vulnerable the species is to extinction. On a global scale this assessment is organized by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), the world’s main authority on conservation status of all species and the originator of the Red Data List.
Colonial nester A bird species that nests with others either of its own species (monospecific colonies) or with other species (mixed-species colonies).
Crepuscular Active during twilight hours, in morning and evening. Some crepuscular species are also partially nocturnal.
Cryptic Marking, colouring or behaviour that makes a bird difficult for a predator to see. Disperser: A bird that has moved away from its breeding or normal resident range.
Diurnal Active during the day. Eclipse plumage: Plumage that in certain birds, especially ducks, replaces the breeding plumage and is worn for only a short period of time. In male ducks this post-breeding plumage is cryptic (similar to female plumage).
Ecoregion Distinctive ecosystem region at a broader scale than landscape. Terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecoregions have been mapped based on the biotic homogeneity and environmental conditions within these geographical units.
Extirpation Analogous to local extinction. A species that no longer exists in a specific area but does survive elsewhere.
Fall In birding, used to denote the event of a large number of migrant birds being “grounded” after harsh weather conditions. This often takes place during mass migration movements in spring or autumn but it is usually an irregular and unpredictable event.
Feral In ornithology, used to denote a once-domesticated species that has reverted to the wild state. The feral pigeon, one of the commonest city birds, is an example.
Field marks Particular attributes of a bird by which a species can be separated from another with some certainty; regarded by birders as species’ identification “trademarks” or “identification tags.” This phrase was popularized by the late Roger Tory Peterson in his Natural History field guides.
Habitat The specific environment where a bird lives (i.e. a species’ “home” environment); or a generic type of place which is a distinct feature of the landscape (i.e. a habitat type).
Immature Young bird. After a young bird leaves the nest in juvenile plumage, which can last varying lengths of time, there follows a complete or partial moult into immature plumage. This persists until the attainment of adult plumage.
Jizz The over-all character of a bird, its holistic impression that aids recognition in the field. The term is derived from fighter pilot’s acronym, “GISS”, which stands for General Impression Size and Shape. This term is important for birders in learning to identify a species immediately after a quick glance.
Juvenile A very young bird in juvenile plumage. This plumage is the first full set of feathers of a young bird after it loses its natal down.
List In birding, it is a list of species seen by a particular observer. Birders strive to keep annotated lists – be it a “day list”, “site list”, “year list” or a “life list.” Also used as a verb: to keep or compile a bird list. Passionate birders who keep many lists are sometimes affectionately called “listers.”
Migration The periodical mass movement of birds from one region to another for the purpose of breeding, feeding or surviving harsh seasonal changes.
Morph A colour or other physical variant within a local population of birds. Also referred to as form. Several bird species have morphs that are commonly seen side-by-side and they also interbreed. This creates variation in plumage types even within the same species.
Nocturnal Active at night.
Non-indigenous species Species not native to a country or region – usually dispersed through introductions by humans. Also known as introduced, alien or exotic species. Recently introduced pet birds are also called escapes. Most non-indigenous species do not survive, but when these species have established robust breeding populations for over a decade they may be considered naturalized.
Pair Denotes two birds of the opposite sex that have mated. Widely used to count and record breeding colonies of birds or birds that may have restricted numbers of breeding individuals (i.e. raptors, waders etc.).
Passerine So-called “sparrow-like birds” or perching birds; all birds within the family Passeriformes. Other usually large birds in many other families are known as non-passerines. Taxonomically this conveniently divides an area’s list of birds into two groups. Plumage: The sum total of feathers on a bird’s body.
Protected area In conservation, an area or site set aside through policy for the protection of nature. Sanctuary, refuge, reserve and various park designations involve categories of official protected areas. “Proposed protected areas” may involve scientific designations such as BirdLife International’s Important Bird Area designations.
Population comeback In conservation, when an anthropogenic pressure has been lifted a species population may respond positively and be restored in terms of numbers and geographic range expansion. The increasing occurrence of some rare vagrants in Kuwait may relate to population comebacks, for example.
Range The entire geographic area across which a species is regularly found. Race: Synonymous with subspecies.
Resident Non-migratory birds; some resident species do undertake localized movements or longer seasonal journeys, but this term denotes a species that remains in an area throughout the year. Roost: A place or site used by birds for sleeping. Also, the act of settling at such a place.
Ringing The scientific pursuit of marking birds usually using leg bands to explore their migration movements (also known as Banding in North America). Satellite telemetry is also used to follow bird movements. Professional teams also involving amateur birders organize such research pursuits using mist nets to safely trap, mark and immediately release wild birds.
Scavenger A bird that eats carrion. Scope or spotting scope: A telescope, usually a smaller lightweight version used for birding not astronomy. When digital cameras are coupled onto the eyepiece the new technique of digiscoping can be easily mastered.
Sea watching Observing birds or wildlife (using binoculars) during a boat trip. Soaring: A method of flight by which a bird glides on rising air currents without actively flapping its wings. Vultures and other raptors or migrating large birds soar on thermals.
Song Bird song generally consists of repeated “phrases” or notes to attract a mate, announce territory or both. Often sung at dawn (“dawn chorus”) or prior to evening roost. Bird song can be a diagnostic means of identifying species.
Species A distinctive group of interbreeding or potentially interbreeding individuals of common ancestry that are reproductively isolated from all other such groups. Distinct species sometimes do interbreed and form hybrids.
Species complex A group of very closely related species or subspecies. For example, the yellow wagtails create a species complex made up of several closely related subspecies.
Specialty For birders and naturalists, a specialty signifies a much sought-after localized species with a localized geographical range. It may also include species which are difficult to see in a particular region but may be easily seen in other geographic realms. For example, some East Asian birds are considered specialties in Kuwait because they are not seen in any other part of the Western Palearctic Zoogeographic realm.
Specialist As opposed to a generalist, it is a species that has specific requirements for certain habitats or food items. It is therefore usually restricted to certain places and therefore is more vulnerable to changes than a generalist. In contrast generalists can survive in many habitats and may utilize a wide range of food items.
Subspecies Distinct population of a species that is morphologically unique and distinct from other populations and that is essentially geographically isolated at least during the breeding season from other distinct populations. Synonymous with race.
Transitional plumage The period when a bird is changing plumage usually as result of moult from immature to adult plumage.
Wetland A uniquely diverse range of habitat types that are characterized by shallow water or temporarily wet ground and sometimes the presence of specific wetland plant communities (such as water-loving plants). In Kuwait, temporary wet areas such as sabkha, playas, salt marshes, mudflats and intertidal marine shallows are considered wetlands. Micro-wetlands and artificial wetland types also exist in reservoirs, ponds, and agricultural areas also.
Western Palearctic One of earth’s major zoogeographic realms or ecozones (sometimes treated more broadly as the Palearctic). Biogeographical realms are separated from each other by the inherent uniqueness of their fauna and flora and their boundaries obviously do not have universal validity. In ornithology, the boundaries of this realm were defined by Cramp and Simmons in 1977 and are still treated as a legitimate delineation, making Kuwait one of the eastern most states within this realm.
Vagrant A bird outside the normal or regularly recorded distribution of the species. Also sometimes known as accidental (i.e. referring to extremely rare vagrants). In less studied areas a vagrant may in fact refer to an irregularly occurring transient within the species’ normal range.
Wader Denotes all sandpipers and relatives in the order Charadriiformes. The term is synonymous with shorebird, an alternative term often used widely in the Americas for this group of birds.
Zoogeography and biogeography The study of the geographical distribution of animals and life forms respectively. Zoogeographers have divided up the world into distinct “faunal regions” or biogeogaphic realms (also called ecozones). The Western Palearctic is one such realm with a distinctive fauna very different from others in the great Afro-Eurasian supercontinent.