Sound like a birder: Your glossary of birding terms

Experienced birders enjoy using birding lingo while they’re out birding. 

And birding jargon can get quite confusing at times. So here’s a short list of some of the main terms to help you not only understand a birder, but even to sound like one. 


| Big Birding Day 

An annual birding day held in South Africa and hosted by BirdLife South Africa. The aim of Big Birding Day is to count as many bird species as you can in the space of 24 hours, logging them on the birding app, BirdLasser. This year, Big Birding Day takes place on 28 November 2020.

| Big Year

Birders set out to add as many birds as they can to their list in the space of one year. The idea started in America, and even resulted in a movie, called ‘The Big Year’, featuring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black. 


Not to be confused with a twitcher, a birder will organise bird trips, to explore new areas and see new birds, with binoculars and a bird book in hand. 


A bird watcher is perhaps not as avid, nor as serious as a birder. A bird watcher will notice birds in his/her garden, and will look up the species to learn more.  


A Bird of Prey.


(pronounced: Jizz)

The General Impression Shape and Size of a bird. Many birders and twitchers start identifying birds simply by their GISS – in other words, the general impression created by the bird (without necessarily focusing on any particular trait of the bird).  


Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are areas identified as globally important to protect bird populations (based on an international set of criteria). In South Africa, IBAs are identified by BirdLife South Africa. There are five IBAs in the Overberg.  


Little Brown Jobs are small birds that are usually quite difficult to distinguish from each other. In the Overberg, birds such as Cape clapper larks, Red-capped larks and the Agulhas Long-billed lark would count as LBJs.   


This refers to the first time a birder/bird watcher or twitcher sees a species of bird. 


Birders and twitchers often compile a list of all the bird species they’ve seen in their lifetime, varying from regional lists to world lists. 

| Mega

A very rare species of bird. 

| Pelagic Bird

These are birds that spend most of their lives on the open ocean, although they are likely to breed on land. They usually have long thin wings, allowing them to fly long periods of time without resting. They may, however, land and rest on the water’s surface. They drink seawater, with special glands that remove the salt. Species include Petrels and Albatrosses. 

| Twitcher

Twitchers generally travel long distances to see a bird species they may not have seen before (often rare birds, or birds that are not supposed to occur in the area they are seen). 

| Vagrant Bird

These are birds that have been seen outside of their normal ecological range. Birds such as the Temminck’s Courser was seen in the Overberg – a vagrant species. 

Image credit: Sharon Brink.