For All You Bird Listers

A Lister’s guide to terminology

As a birder, do you keep a life list? If yes, do you know how many bird species you’ve seen in your life? Do you know how many species you’ve seen in North America? In the US? In your state? In your county? In your city? In your backyard? Some people answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions! The ultimate list-keeper! Every birder seems to have their own unique philosophy towards list keeping. Now, I don’t advocate listing, but it can be fun to keep track! As a budding lister (or not!) there’s a few words you should be familiar with:

Tick: this is the act of adding a new species to one of your lists. Example exchange: ‘Have you ticked Scissor-tailed Flycatcher this year?’ ‘Oh, yeah. I got it last week when I twitched the early sighting in Texas.’

Lifer: a bird you have never seen before. All lifers are ticks on your ‘life list’, but not all ticks are lifers! Example exchange: ‘Did you catch the Palm Warbler in those trees?’ ‘No! I saw it on the RBA but it was gone by the time I could get here, and a shame, it would have been a lifer for me.’

Armchair Tick: the act of ticking a bird you didn’t have to chase because of a taxonomic split. You might have a recent one from the split of Pacific Wren from Winter Wren.

Double-tick: some birders will only count species they’ve seen at least twice. The second time they see a species would constitute the double-tick.

Twitch: the act of sprinting from your computer (or with your blackberry, iphone, etc.) on the news that a lifer or potential rare tick has been seen in your area (or within 2,000 miles) to chase that bird.

RBA: rare bird alert. There’s at least one for you no matter where you live. The more birders there are in your area, the more often the RBA is updated and the more birds are on it. You can find one for your area at

Peep: any of a number of small sandpipers. Example exchange: ‘Were you able to identify any of those shorebirds?’ ‘Yes, there were a few Westerns mixed in with that flock of peeps, but I didn’t get a good enough look to tell what else there might have been.’

Empid: any of several species of Empidonax flycatcher. Example exchange: ‘Were you able to identify that empid?’ ‘Um, yeah. Let me know what you thought it was and I’ll tell you if you were close…’.

This list will get you started, but the terminology is evolving every day, and there are often words flying around that I’ve never heard before. Don’t be afraid to get in there and invent some of your own! You never know, they might stick!

About the Author: Chantelle Voss is the Owner of and a birding enthusiast. Your Bird Oasis will help you transform your garden into your own bird oasis with a variety of beautiful bird house kits, Bird Feeders, and Bird Houses to choose from. With exquisite artistic Bird Bath Fountains, Bird Bath Bowls, Decorative Bird Feeders at your convenience, you can add a unique touch to your garden and create a haven for the birds in your area.

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