Birding Acronyms

Shorthand Codes for Birders

Snowy Egret and Great Egret
SNEG and GREG together - note which is which!. Photo © Larry Hennessey/Flickr/Used With Permission

Many birders take notes when observing different species in the field so they are able to record their sightings quickly and easily. Birding acronyms and code abbreviations can be a useful tool for fast, efficient recording.

Why Use Acronyms

Instead of writing out full bird names, fast acronyms and shorthand codes allow birders to take notes in compact notebooks or the margins of a field guide yet still be able to interpret their notations. Additional acronyms may be used to indicate other conditions of a sighting, such as the quality of the view or when the bird was seen. These private notes can then be transcribed into a field journal, blog, website or larger notebook at leisure without forgetting or misinterpreting any information.

With technology becoming more and more prominent in birding circles, acronyms can be even more useful. A birder might send a text to an online listserv or social media network about a bird sighting. By using acronyms the text can be shortened considerably without losing its meaning or being incomprehensible to other birders. Acronyms are also useful for naming photo files or creating other digital media for long term storage or to share with other birders.

Bird Name Acronyms

Shorthand notations for bird species names are the most popular birding acronyms and abbreviations. Any bird's common name can be easily transcribed into a four-letter acronym, but which four letters to use depends on the bird's name. For most species with a two word name, the first two letters of each word become the instant acronym:

When a bird's name has hyphenated or multiple words, the first letters of each connected word or word-like syllable may be used for the acronym:

  • SSHA – Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  • RCKI – Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
  • RWBL – Red-Winged Blackbird
  • GCRF – Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch

In cases where the bird's name is a single word, the first four letters of the name are the standard acronym:

  • MERL – Merlin
  • VERD – Verdin
  • SORA – Sora
  • GADW – Gadwall

Birders will occasionally shorten very common acronyms even further, particularly when there will still be no mistaking what bird is mentioned. The most common example is TV, or turkey vulture, which would be TUVU for the standard acronym. Whichever acronyms you use, the most important consideration is that you can easily remember what each one stands for and other birders will be able to interpret your notes if you share them.

Field Acronyms

In addition to using abbreviated bird species names, acronyms can be a useful shorthand for making other field notes about birding conditions. Popular field acronyms include:

  • FOY: "First of Year" refers to the first time a birder positively identifies an individual species within a calendar year (January 1 to December 31). Some birders may also use this acronym to denote the very first bird they see in a calendar year, regardless of its species.
  • FOTS: "First of the Season" is a way to note the first time a birder positively identifies a specific bird within a season. Depending on the bird, FOTS may be used multiple times during the year for the same species, particularly for migratory birds. For other species this abbreviation may be used only once depending on the bird's migration path or habitat range.
  • BVD: "Better View Desired" is a way to note that while a bird has been identified, the birder is not thoroughly satisfied with the sighting. Certain key field marks may have been obscured, or the bird might have been a juvenile or in an alternate plumage rather than clearly identifiable breeding plumage. BVD is also commonly used by birding photographers who would like to get better images of a particular species.
  • LBJ / LBB: "Little Brown Job" or "Little Brown Bird" is a designation for any sparrow, finch or similar species that can be difficult to identify. While a birder may be able to classify the bird in terms of a general family, if discerning field marks are not visible the bird may be noted as an LBJ instead of an exact species.
  • UFR: "Unidentified Flying Raptor" is a term that can be used similarly to LBJ or LBB. When it is clear that a bird of prey has been sighted but the species is uncertain because of poor lighting or extreme distance, a UFR can be noted. A UFR may also be a raptor sighted while hunting, when the bird's speed and direction make it impossible to note specific field marks for proper identification.
  • GISS / JIZZ: "General Impression of Size and Shape" (pronounced jizz) is a term used when making notes about a bird's appearance. The GISS or JIZZ of a bird can make it easy to narrow down the species for identification, since studying the physical size, shape and proportions of a bird is the first step toward identifying it. GISS or JIZZ is often used in field notebooks proceeding a description of an unknown bird.
  • IRL: "In Real Life" is a designation birders use to clarify their notes, often when birds don't show expected field marks as prominently as expected from field guide illustrations. IRL may also be used as a note in birding-related social media to indicate that a birder may or may not not have seen a particular species personally.

Other Acronyms

Many other birding acronyms are also popular, both in the field and in bird-related discussions. Organizations, for example, often use acronyms to abbreviate their names, such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) or the IBRRC (International Bird Rescue Research Center). Popular birding events also use convenient acronyms – thousands of birders look forward to the annual CBC (Christmas Bird Count) and GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count). Even locations may be known by easy acronyms as well, and many birders take advantage of the NWF (National Wildlife Refuge) system to see different species of birds.

Birding acronyms and abbreviations can be an easy and efficient way to record field observations and share those observations with other enthusiastic birders. By using and understanding common acronyms, birders can communicate effectively without wasting a second of precious observational time for the birds they hope to use acronyms for.