Adapted from "Bird Words," contributed by subscriber Ruth Beasley. Ruth writes about birds on her website Learning the Birds. She can also be heard on High Plains Public Radio , her local NPR affiliate in Garden City, Kansas.
A large part of learning the birds is the attempt to gain fluency in a new language. Bird words, I call 'em. Memorable words like melanistic, pileated, accipiter, and axillar -- none my spell-checker recognizes. These fine words permeate the bird books, meticulously staking out descriptive territory.
Birders are people for whom subtle differences are carefully noted, and it's important to get the lingo right. Colors are precise, with shades of tawny, bay, cinnamon, ivory, chestnut, and buff. I'm still figuring out the difference between sooty and slatey, mottled and splotched.