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Dictionary G-L - BirdForum Opus

This section is aimed at explaining the bird and biology specific vocabulary you are likely to meet in other threads in Birdforum.

This page is divided into several sections: Dictionary A-C, Dictionary D-F, Dictionary G-L, Dictionary M-O, Dictionary P-S and Dictionary T-Z.


Gape: see Heads.

Genus, genera: a genus is the taxonomic level above species, and contains one or often more species that are each others closest relatives.

Gleaning: taking insects, spiders and similar animal matter from the surface of leaves, branches, bark, etc., as opposed to catching them in the air.

Gloger's rule: a zoogeographic rule stating that animals living in a warmer, more humid environment tends to be darker than those living in cooler, dryer areas.

Gonys: see Beaks. Related expressions are gonys spot, gonys angle = gondyeal angle also explained in the link.

Graminivorous: birds that mainly feed on grasses, such as geese.

Granivorous: birds that tend to eat seeds and grains. Notice that even if adults are granivorous, they often will feed their young with insects because these have a higher protein content.

Gular: This relates to the throat area and in birds is usually relating to either a bare patch or sac of tissue connecting the lower mandible to the neck. The male Magnificent Frigatebird shows the latter to superb effect during courtship displays.

Gynandromorph, Gynandromorphy: an individual bird which shows male characteristics on one side and female characteristics on the other side, normally explained from them having both ovary and testis present in the body. The change from male to female happens exactly at the mid line[1] (the line where you would cut if you were splitting the bird into a right and a left half). Further studies of these birds indicate that they have mostly ZZ-chromosome-containing cells on the side of the body developing male characteristics and ZW-chromosome-containing cells on the side of the body with female characters[2]. (See Sex determination in birds for further on the importance of ZZ versus ZW chromosomes in a bird). In other words, the chromosomal content of the cells might be better at determining the extent of sex development than the hormonal content.

References G

  1. Birdforum thread discussing gynandromorph birds
  2. https://karger.com/sxd/article/10/5-6/288/296439/Sex-Reversal-in-Birds


Habitat: the specific environment in which a (member of a) species lives. Like most biological terms, there is a large amount of variation (or even uncertainty) built into this concept. At the very local level it often describes which plant species combined with which physical characteristics are necessary before a species can live and reproduce in an area. However, habitat is sometimes also used at a more landscape level, which for some species is appropriate as a given species might be found among some plants at some time of the day but not others or might be changing during the year.

Hackles: long, narrow feathers often located on the neck of a bird.

Hallux: the name for the innermost toe (in humans the big toe) which in most birds is the one pointing backwards. see Legs and Feet

Heterodactyl: The arrangement of toes in the trogons, they have the inner two toes pointing backwards whilst the outer two toes point forward. see Legs and Feet

Homoplasy: is used to describe that two species are identical in some trait not because of common ancestry but because of convergent evolution or random genetic events. As example of convergent evolution, compare the mouth of some small, insect eating marsupials in Australia with shrews in Europe; they are fairly much identical because they are selected to efficiently solve the same problem, catching and eating insects.

Hybrid, Hybridisation: a hybrid is the offspring of a mating between parents belonging to two different species or subspecies. A well known example is the mule, which is a hybrid between horse and donkey. Hybridisation between distantly related species will most often result in infertile offspring, while more closely related species might result in offspring that seems fully fertile but still has selective disadvantages meaning that in the big picture, the two forms does stay distinct. On the other hand, hybridisation between subspecies by definition would result in fertile offspring; if there is reduced fertility or selective disadvantage, then the two groups might be on the way to becoming full species. Examples of bird hybrids found reasonably frequently would be hybrids between ducks in genus Anas or in genus Aythya or geese including Canada Goose x geese of either genus Branta or Anser.

Hyperphagia: in birds the exessive eating to lay down fat reserves for migration.

Hyperlipogenesis: the creation of the necessary fat deposits for migration.


Immature (there are two usages of this term):

  • 1: strictly speaking, this includes all plumages after juvenile and before full adult plumage is attained2. The number of immature plumages can therefore vary widely between groups of species, from none to five (exceptionally more), depending on how many years a bird takes to reach maturity.
  • 2: some authors do not really distinguish between juvenile/juvenal and immature1.

Intersex: a very basic definition of intersex is an individual expressing traits both associated with male and female in that particular species. In humans, an example could be a person expressing testosterone but expressing a receptor that has significantly reduced efficiency. That individual could, at birth, have uncertain biological sex, for example in having a structure present which could be an enlarged clitoris or a small penis. In birds, as explained in Sex determination in birds, the female bird usually has the left side gonad as female (producing estrogen) and the right side as not active; damage to the left side gonad can lead to the activation of the right side gonad as a testicle and the result being a bird showing reversal from female to male phenotype, at least partial. Therefore, intersex in a bird usually involves a female bird showing male characters in plumage after a damage has happened to the active gonad in the female. As damage has about the same likelihood per time unit, and because damage may not involve complete inability to the gonad to produce sex hormones, the effect is increasingly likely as the age of the individual increases, and the effect may involve some characters but not all.3

Introgression: a process by which some small areas of the genome (DNA) from one species inters the genome of another species. This usually happens through a process that first involves hybridization of the two species, followed by a period where the hybrids produced only breed with one of the two parental species. The result can then be that certain gene variants from the other species are selected for and become a fixed part of the population into which they have been introgressed.

Iridescence: see Diffraction at D

Iris: see Heads

Irrupt, irruption, irruptive species: an irruption is the occurrence of larger number of birds of a species beyond their normal range, usually happening in irregular intervals and always with some years where no extra individuals are seen. Many species have been encountered in irruptions, but some well known examples involve species of predators eating lemmings which usually are resident but after years with many lemmings and therefore large production of young can be found far south of their normal range, such as Snowy Owls and Northern Hawk-Owls. Other examples are Bohemian Waxwings, some species of lapwings and sandgrouse, and several different species of the dry interior Australia. Sometimes, an irruption is followed by birds staying and attempting breeding, but usually the species will again disappear as local breeding species. Compare with migration and dispersal.

References I

  1. Erritzoe et al. 2007. The Ornithologist's Dictionary. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. ISBN 84-96553-43-4
  2. Pyle, Peter 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California. ISBN 0-9618940-2-4
  3. https://karger.com/sxd/article/10/5-6/288/296439/Sex-Reversal-in-Birds


Juvenile (synonymous with Juvenal): the first plumage with real feathers, reached by moult from the downy plumage of a nestling or pullus. Strictly, this is a plumage that will be followed by either the first adult plumage or by the plumage of an immature; however, there seems to be great confusion, and some authors use juvenile and immature as synonymous. The juvenile feathers often are different to the feathers of later plumages: firstly, they often push out the downs that they replace, and the down may remain attached to the tip of the juvenile feather for a while; secondly, the body feathers often are more fluffy and downy than later feathers; and thirdly, tail feathers in passerines often are more pointed than tail feathers of later plumages2. Erritzoe et al.1 proposes a change in usage so that a juvenile bird is any "young bird that is out of its nest and able to care for itself". (Note that the form "juvenal" probably arose as a typo or misspelling and as such should be avoided).

References J

  1. Erritzoe et al. 2007. The Ornithologist's Dictionary. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. ISBN 84-96553-43-4
  2. Pyle, Peter 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California. ISBN 0-9618940-2-4


Kettle: a flock (usually) of soaring birds such as raptors (e.g., Broad-winged Hawk) that migrate more or less as a flock. The word describes the way such a flock will look while circling around each other in a thermal, something they do to gain height.

Kleptoparasite: a bird which obtains food by stealing it from other birds or animals (from Greek κλέπτω 'klepto', to steal, + parasite). Well-known kleptoparasites include Magnificent Frigatebird, Arctic Skua and other skuas, and Heermann's Gull (which steal from other seabirds), and Red Kite (which will snatch prey from Ospreys and Common Buzzards).


Leapfrog migration: a strategy of bird migration, where far northern (or far southern) breeding birds fly longer distances, crossing over other populations of the same species and continuing further south (or north) than they do. For example, Common Ringed Plovers breeding in the high Arctic migrate to southern Africa in winter, overflying the populatons that breed in Britain which only migrate short distances to southwestern Europe if they migrate at all.

Leapfrog patterns: this is used to describe patterns where two populations within a species (or among closely related species) display one pattern of phenotype (visible characteristics) while an intervening population differs. Recent DNA results indicate that the distant, identical populations are not more closely related than the intervening one, but that the repeated patterns might be results of local selection forces[2].

Lek, lekking: lekking is the behaviour where males display in groups hoping that a female will choose one of the displaying males to mate with. Lek can therefore mean such a group, but it can also mean the place where such behaviour takes place (colloquially called mating arena). Lek differs from a normal display by performance of multiple males, and on the place used only for displaying and providing no food, nesting place or other resources. Black Grouse, Ruff and Manakins are examples of birds known for their lekking, but lekking happens in several additional groups.

Leucism, leucistic: best used about an animal that has reduced pigment everywhere except bare parts, but where the normal pattern is still present in "shadow" form, or where the plumage is completely (and for the species abnormally) white but where bare parts are normally coloured. (Some authorities also include "Partial albinism" within this term). Usage of this term in birds is complicated by the fact that bird have not one but two independent types of pigment based on melanin (usually further divided into eumelanin (black or grey), phaeomelanin (tan to brown) and erythromelanin (chestnut-reds)) and carotenoid (can be further divided into carotenes (orangey), xanthophylls (mainly yellows), and carotenoic acids (red)) molecules. Production of each main class and often of each type can be individually influenced by genetic changes, sometimes resulting in birds where one pigment is normal and another is missing or too strong. Some authorities[1] therefore recommend using schizochroism with prefixes describing which pigment is changed and in which direction. See also "Albinism" and Melanism.

Even though the following gallery search claims to search for Dictionary G-L, it actually search for "albinism" or "albino" or "Leucism" or "leucistic". Just be aware that some of the photos found might be of photos showing the opposite, but where one of these words are mentioned in the text!

Lore: (more often used in plural, lores) see Heads

References L

  1. Birdforum thread discussing colour variations
  2. Birdforum thread discussing leapfrog patterns starting in post #11

This page is divided into several sections: Dictionary A-C, Dictionary D-F, Dictionary G-L, Dictionary M-O, Dictionary P-S and Dictionary T-Z.