A Glossary of Bird Biology Terms

This glossary defines terms that you might encounter when studying bird biology, also known as ornithology.


The medium tree finch (Camarhynchus pauper) is endemic to Floreana Island in the Galápagos Islands.
The medium tree finch (Camarhynchus pauper) is endemic to Floreana Island in the Galápagos Islands. Photo © Frans Lanting / Getty Images.

A gizzard is a muscular organ that is located within the avian digestive system. Food in the gizzard is ground up by the combination action of muscular contraction and the hard stones (grit) retained in the gizzard. 


Lift is an aeorodynamic force that raises a bird off the ground and keeps it in the air. Lift is produced by air moing around and past the airfoil formed by the wings.

loafing platform

A loafing platform is a nest-like structure that is constructed by coots and other waterfowl. It serves as a place where young can rest out of the water.


Mobbing is a behavior common to some birds in which a group of birds harrass a predator or other intruding animal in order to force that animal to leave the area.


The term nidicolous refers to birds that are reared for a period of time in a nest. Altricial young are always nidicolous. Some precocial young might be nidicolous too, which means that they are capable of moving on their own, but they do not actually leave the nest.


The term nidifugous refers to young birds that leave the nest soon after hatching. Nidifugous young are also described as precocial.

orbital ring

In birds, an orbital ring is a flesh area around the eye. In some bird species, the orbital ring is a different or contrasting colored.

partial molt

The term partial molt refers to a type of molt in which the replacement of feathers occurs in only some, but not all, feather tracts.


The term pectinate refers to having tooth-like projections that are similar to the teeth of a comb. Such projections are found on the toes of grouse and on the middle claw of some birds such as the barn owl. 

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Klappenbach, Laura. "A Glossary of Bird Biology Terms." ThoughtCo, Mar. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/glossary-of-bird-biology-terms-4002737. Klappenbach, Laura. (2016, March 17). A Glossary of Bird Biology Terms. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/glossary-of-bird-biology-terms-4002737 Klappenbach, Laura. "A Glossary of Bird Biology Terms." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/glossary-of-bird-biology-terms-4002737 (accessed December 15, 2017).