Jizz Definition - Bird Identification

Learn to Identify Birds by Jizz

Herring Gull
This bird's size, shape, bill and general proportions - its jizz - identify it as a gull. - Photo © Dan Pancamo/Flickr/Used With Permission

Definition:

(noun) Jizz is the overall impression of a bird's physical characteristics that can help pinpoint a proper identification, either by narrowing down options or directly leading to a specific species identification.

Pronunciation:

JIHZ
(rhymes with fizz, biz and Ms.)

Origin of Jizz

The exact origin of the word jizz as it relates to birding is unclear, but it is likely related to the German word gestalt, which means a complete shape or form.

Birders who identify birds by jizz are looking at the complete picture the bird presents with all its major characteristics in order to name the species, rather than just noting one field mark or diagnostic trait. Another related term is GISS, the acronym for "general impression of size and shape" often used to identify aircraft. The term jizz predates GISS, however; jizz has been used in birding since at least the 1920s, while GISS was not in use until World War II.

About a Bird's Jizz

When birders look at jizz, they are trying to get a whole picture of a bird and use that combined impression of key characteristics to determine the bird's identity. For many observations, jizz is less regimented and formal, but even imprecise, casual observations can be added together for surprisingly accurate results. When watching birds and noting their jizz, birders often look for traits such as:

  • Size, often compared to well known, general bird types, such as robin or sparrow, but without needing precise measurements or tiny comparisons. Unusual sizes will often be noted, such as a bird that seems overly large or overly small compared to expected species.
     
  • Shape, including proportions and distinct features, such as the long legs of wading birds but not minding overlap in related shapes, such as how similar terns and gulls can look in the field. Unusual shapes, such as a spoonbill's unique bill shape or a distinctly forked tail can be noted and will help immensely with identification.
     
  • Overall plumage coloration, including general patterns of mottling or streaking, but without great care taken to note tiny field marks, exact color hues or subtle features. Very outstanding colors, such as a hummingbird's iridescent gorget, are often noted as part of jizz.
     
  • Movement and behavior, such as a songbird hawking or gleaning insects, but without formally counting wing beats, noting exact prey or timing behavior patterns. These observations can also help distinguish any abnormal movements that may indicate an injured bird.
     
  • Habitat, including how the bird is positioned in that habitat, such as on the ground or in the treetops, but without needing to identify exact plants or note latitude and longitude. Habitat conditions, such as weather patterns, temperatures and time of day are often part of the jizz notes.

While jizz observations may seem vague and casual, a keen-eyed birder quickly learns which traits to focus on most successfully to properly identify birds. For many birds, even carefully noting just 2-3 jizz characteristics can lead to easy identifications of familiar, common local species.

What Jizz Can and Can't Do

A bird's jizz does not often lead directly to a proper species identification, especially for unknown or unfamiliar birds. Jizz can, however, help birders decide which bird family or type of bird they have seen, which is a starting point to observe the most prominent field marks for individual species. Jizz is also useful in poor conditions when it will be impossible to identify a species, such as in a dense mixed flock or under extremely poor visibility. In these cases, general bird types can be noted for record keeping, even if exact species cannot be confirmed.

On the other hand, this intuitive approach to bird identification can be remarkably effective, particularly as birders practice and become more familiar with birds common in their area. Over time, a birder may be able to quickly determine a bird's jizz and may only need to see a single additional field mark, or none at all, to know which bird they are most likely seeing. At the same time, birders should not relax their vigilance - vagrant birds and rare sightings are possible at any time and in any location. Relying too heavily on jizz alone can lead to sloppy mistakes and misidentified birds, causing confusion and missed opportunities in the field.

Also Known As:

Gestalt

Alternate Spellings:

Giss, Gizz