Bird­ing jar­gon un­rav­elled

If you’ve ever been bam­boo­zled by the nick­names fel­low bird­watch­ers have given to birds, then read on so you too can iden­tify a ‘Grop­per’ or ‘Grotfinch’…

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: ANDY MACKAY

Help is at hand if you’ve ever found your­self baf­fled by bird­ers’ nick­names for birds

IHAVE WRIT­TEN PRE­VI­OUSLY in these pages about the fact that many bird names aren’t as de­scrip­tive as you might think, and how this can be con­fus­ing if you’re tempted to take them too lit­er­ally. But this isn’t the end of the story. Just as you think you’re get­ting the hang of it, and re­mem­ber­ing that Green Sand­pipers aren’t re­ally green, it be­gins to dawn on you that many of your fel­low bird­watch­ers seem to be speak­ing in a for­eign lan­guage when talk­ing about their bird­ing ex­ploits... “So any­way, when we got there we found that the PG Tips was just a Grop­per, and then it got taken by a Sprawk, so we went to look at the OBP and the Grotfinch as they were just round the cor­ner.” Hang on – what?! At first you might think that these are all ex­tremely rare birds that you’ve never heard of, but no, un­for­tu­nately some bird­watch­ers do tend to use some­what un­con­ven­tional names for birds, and this can be yet an­other source of con­fu­sion for the be­gin­ner. I’m sure the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple don’t do this de­lib­er­ately to con­fuse or ex­clude oth­ers, but it can un­doubt­edly have that ef­fect un­til you learn all the jar­gon. I don’t re­ally know why bird names get abused like this. I am, how­ever, fre­quently guilty of it, although I would never con­sciously do it in front of some­one I didn’t know, or who might not un­der­stand what I was talk­ing about. The fact is that many bird names are rather cum­ber­some for ev­ery­day use, and so bird­watch­ers of­ten ab­bre­vi­ate or use nick­names. Let’s an­a­lyse that cryp­tic sen­tence in the open­ing para­graph: ‘PG Tips’ is a much-used (some would say overused) jokey name for Pal­las’s Grasshop­per War­bler, which is in­deed a very rare bird. The ‘PG’ bit is ob­vi­ous – from the ini­tials of Pal­las’s Grasshop­per, and the ‘tips’ part pun­ningly refers to one of its iden­tifi­cation char­ac­ters, large whitish tips to the tail feath­ers. It has been sug­gested that one rea­son peo­ple use ‘short­hand’ like this is to save time when bird­ing – if the no­to­ri­ously skulk­ing Pal­las’s Grasshop­per War­bler sud­denly ap­pears in front of you, it might have dis­ap­peared again by the time you’ve got those eight syl­la­bles out, so say­ing ‘PG Tips’ is a lot quicker! ‘Grop­per’ is sim­ply a con­trac­tion of the name of the PG Tips’ much com­moner rel­a­tive, the Grasshop­per War­bler, and ‘Sprawk’ is an­other con­trac­tion, this time for Spar­rowhawk. ‘OBP’ refers to the ini­tial let­ters of Olive-backed Pipit, and fi­nally in that sen­tence, ‘Grotfinch’ is a rather un­pleas­ant and deroga­tory name for the ad­mit­tedly drab

GROP­PER The Grasshop­per War­bler is a bird more of­ten heard in nick­name form than ac­tu­ally seen! OBP Oliver-backed Pipit, a rare vis­i­tor from the east

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