• Nevis

The weird and wonderful language of birders

Here at Nevis, a lot of our work involves bird surveys on sites across the country, from towering mountains to sheltered glens. Prior knowledge and skills of birds and survey techniques are a big plus when working with us, so it’s no surprise that over the years we’ve had many staff join who have been keen birders themselves.


Birding is a favourite pastime of many people, and its history in the UK can be traced right back to the late 18th century. Like all hobbies and subcultures the world over, birding and twitching has an entire language of its own, and relative newbies (as well as “non-birder” colleagues) can often feel out of their depth when speaking to experienced birders.

When getting into birding, one of the first terms people come across is ‘giss’ (pronounced ‘jizz’). This is a term that can be used to help identify birds when you don’t have much to go on. When out in the field and you see a bird fly over, or skulking around in undergrowth, you may hear the phrase “that has the giss of a *insert family/genus of bird here*”. This means that from the behaviour and other characteristics of the bird seen, they’ve made an educated guess as to what it might be but cannot be certain until more definitive features are identified. When learning this as an early stage birder, many of our team were taught to remember it as the ‘general impression, size and shape (giss) of a bird. Using everything around you, like the shape, posture, flying style or other habitual movements, size and colouration combined with voice, habitat and location, can help identify a bird from family to genus and species.

Another term that you’ll be likely to hear early in your birding career is the phrase ‘little brown job’ or LBJ. This is commonly used for small brown birds that look similar to numerous other species and can be difficult to identify in the field. In the UK we aren’t exactly blessed with the most colourful avian fauna so LBJ is a commonly used phrase. From experience, be prepared to identify many LBJs before you have honed your bird id skills! Finally, when you get into birding and start keeping a record of what you see, hopefully one of the common words you’ll regularly use is ‘lifer’; simply put, it means any bird species that you see for the first time, and get to add to your life list of bird species seen.

Once your skills have gotten better, several other words and phrases will likely work their way into your vocabulary, many of these being used to describe a bird you’ve seen on one trip or another. Most are used in a positive context and go some way to show how enthusiastic, passionate, and humorous the world of birding can be!


For instance:

‘Bob that mega blue rock thrush was a crippler, it stayed out in the open feeding for over an hour!’


  • A ‘mega’ is used when you see an extremely rare bird; many are blown over from Asia, Eastern Europe or North America (the latter also get called ‘yanks’ for obvious reasons); dedicated birders in the UK often only encounter a handful of megas in their lives.

  • A ‘crippler’ can be synonymous with a ‘mega’ but is used to describe a bird that shows so well that you can’t leave and are ‘crippled’ into sticking around and watching it.

  • A CMF or ‘Cosmic Mind F**k’ (a personal fave of the team)- according to Wikipedia CMF is used to describe a bird ‘at or above the crippler level’.

Many of our team consider themselves "dudes" -someone who enjoys birding in easy places and in pleasant weather, happy to watch whatever comes along, and not always searching for that mega rarity such as a CMF.


Keeping lists is also a big part of birding, you want to know what birds you’ve seen and where! People keep country, regional, year, life, and many other different kinds of birding lists. Some of our team have been keeping a list of their own for considerable years, and having travelled to a number of different countries since then, some have seen over 800 species! However, when compared to the over 10000 species of bird found worldwide, it doesn’t seem like that much.

Birding can become a gateway drug to the more hardcore ‘twitching’, that UK birders are famous for. Twitching got its name in the 1950’s, from a chap called Howard Medhurst. His friend Bob Emmett explained how he would give Howard a ride on the back of his motorcycle when their gang went off to spot birds. At the destination Howard would “totter off the back” and “shiveringly light up a cigarette”. Apparently, other friends began to imitate his jerky movements, and travelling to see a rare bird became “to go on a twitch”.

Birding/twitching is a particularly popular pastime in the UK and has been embedded in British culture for decades. It is a great way to share a passion that gets you out and about in nature and gets you to visit places you’d never normally go, along with meeting like-minded enthusiastic/crazy birders. It’s always good when you’re able to make a hobby into a paid job, and past and present staff here at Nevis have been lucky enough to do so!

Honourable mentions of birding words/phrases: · Plastic – an escaped bird that doesn’t count as a ‘lifer’ due to its non-wild state · Vagrant – a rare bird that has strayed far from its normal ecological range · To dip – to miss seeing a bird you tried to twitch · Grip – to twitch a bird and then tell someone who ‘dipped’ it that you saw it · Patch – a birders local area · Pelagic – a boat trip specifically made to see oceanic birds · SOB – Spouse of Birder · Stringer - someone who deliberately misleads, gives false reports of birds seen Bird survey requirements on your site? Get in touch with the Nevis team today:


#birdnerds #ornithology #twitcher #birds #biodiversity