See Parts of Birds for figures of topography and feather patterns.

General Glossary

Based chiefly on BWP, Campbell & Lack (1985) and Lucas & Stettenheim (1972). Terms in italics in the definitions are defined elsewhere in the glossary or shown in the topographical illustrations.

ALLEN’S RULE: An ecogeographical trend whereby populations of a species at lower latitudes have larger extremities (bills, feet) than those at higher latitudes. [added Vol. 7]

APICAL SPOT. white tips of primaries of gulls. [added Vol. 3]

ALULA. Small feathers attached to first digit of wing; also called bastard-wing.

AXILLARIES. Feathers in the ‘armpit’, attached to the body.

BARB. A branch from the father shaft; collective term for a ramus and the barbules attached to it.

BARBULES. Lateral branches of a ramus that interlink barbs.

BERGMANN’S RULE: An ecogeographical trend whereby populations of a species at lower latitudes and altitudes (warmer environments) have smaller body mass than those at higher latitudes and altitudes (colder environments). [added Vol. 6]

BODY-FEATHERS. All pennaceous feathers of a bird except the remiges and rectrices.

BRISTLE. Stiff hair-like feather, usually with a few barbs at the base of the shaft.

BROOD PATCH. A region of bare, vascular and oedematous skin on abdomen that increases transfer of heat from incubating bird to eggs.

CALAMUS. The hollow base of the feather shaft; no barbs are attached to it.

CARPAL BAR. band of dark feathers extending diagonally across the inner upperwing, from the carpal joint to the base of the tertials, and contrasting with paler rest of wing; formed by median secondary coverts and rear rows of lesser secondary coverts. Characteristic of many gulls. [added Vol 3]

CARPAL JOINT. The wrist joint, forming the forward pointing prominence of the folded wing.

CENTRIFUGAL. Moult that begins in the middle of a row of feathers and progresses in both directions.

CENTRIPETAL. Moult that begins simultaneously at the two extremes of a row of feathers, and progresses towards the centre.

CHEEKS: In passerine volumes, sometimes used to describe feathers just below the eye that are, technically, anterior ear-coverts. When ‘cheeks’ was used with the term ‘ear-coverts’, ear-coverts then
referred only to those behind the eye. [added Vol. 4, modified Vol 5]

CLINE. Gradation in one or more characters in populations of a species across its geographical range or part of it.

CLOACAL RING. Feathers circling the rim of the cloaca.

COMMIC TERNS: a group of very similar medium-sized Sterna terns: Roseate S. dougallii, White-fronted S. striata, Common S. hirundo, Arctic S. paradisaea, Antarctic S. vittata and Kerguelen S. virgata. [added Vol. 3]

CONTOUR-FEATHER. Feather with pennaceous vanes forming part of visible external surface of body.

COVERTS. One or more rows of feathers that overlie, dorsally or ventrally, the bases of remiges (wing-coverts) or rectrices (tail-coverts ) or over the aural opening (ear-coverts) . See illustrations of topography (Figs 2-8 in Parts of Birds). [text modified Vol. 5]

CRURAL TRACT: The tract of feathers running along the thigh
(tibiotarsus). [added Vol 5.]

CUBITAL BAR. band of dark feathers along the leading-edge of the inner upperwing, and contrasting with paler rest of wing; formed by lesser secondary coverts. Occurs in many terns. [added Vol. 3]

CULMEN. Dorsal ridge of upper mandible.

CYCLE. Shortened version of plumage cycle, which runs from a given plumage or moult to the next occurrence of the same plumage or moult. Cycles do not always last for a year, e.g. Sooty Tern (Chapin 1954), King Penguin (Stonehouse 1960)

DIASTATAXIS. Arrangement of feathers in wing in which the fifth upper secondary covert has no corresponding secondary.

DISTAL. Pertaining to part of feather, wing, tail etc. farthest from the body.

DORSUM. Upper-surface of body.

DOWN-FEATHER. Feather with fluffy vanes formed by plumulaceous barbules.

EUSTAXIS. Arrangement of wing-feathers in which fifth upper secondary covert has a corresponding secondary.

EYE-RING A ring of feathers forming a marking round the eye. [added Vol. 2]

FAULT-BAR: Narrower, translucent bands of similar orientation to growth-bars, caused by defective format ion of barbules; they occur only occasionally, perhaps as a result of a brief episode of stress or dietary deficiency (King & Murphy 1984). [exracted from Plumages, Vol. 5]

FILOPLUME. Fine hair-like feather with a small tuft of barbs at the tip; occasionally there are a few barbs elsewhere.

FORM. Neutral term indicating an individual variant or a taxonomic unit.

FRINGE AT TIP A narrow area of contrasting colour at the tip of a feather that does not extend onto the sides of the feather (see Parts of Birds Fig. 23). [added Vol. 2]

GAPE-STRIPE: In some smaller honeyeaters, a narrow contrasting pale stripe running back across sides of head from gape; comprised of bare fleshy gape and feathered moustachial stripe. [added Vol. 5]

GLOGER’S RULE: An ecogeographical trend whereby populations of a species living in sunnier, more highly irradiated and, commonly, arid environments are paler and less intensely pigmented than those in cloudier and, commonly, wetter environments. [added Vol. 7]

GROWTH-BAR: Narrow bands of contrasting diffraction that run roughly perpendicular to the shafts of most feathers and are thought to correspond to periods of daily growth. Like watermarks in paper, they are more conspicuous at some angles than others. [exracted from Plumages, Vol. 5]

HACKLE. A long slender feather on the neck.

HALF-BAR: An incomplete bar across the web of a feather, which meets the edge but does not reach the shaft. [added Vol. 4]

HOOKBACKS: dark markings on the outer primaries of some terns, in which dark areas on tips of the outer webs extends on to the inner webs as a dark line along inner edge; see illustrations Fig. 8, Antarctic Tern. [added Vol. 3]

HUMERAL COVERTS. Upper wing-coverts covering the base of the humerals.

HUMERALS. Remiges attached to the humerus, the innermost wing-bone (see subhumerals, tertials, humeral coverts).

INNERWING-COVERTS. Secondary coverts. Used mainly to refer to those coverts visible on the folded wing of a standing bird. [added Vol. 3, modified Vol. 5]

INNERWING. secondaries and secondary coverts combined (including tertials and their coverts). [added Vol 3, modified Vol. 5]

INTEGUMENT. External covering of a bird, including skin and feathers.

INWARD. Moult of a row of feathers proceeding from the outside to the inside. Common in secondaries.

IRREGULAR. Pattern of moult in a row of feathers that cannot be described as simultaneous, outwards, inwards, centrifugal, centripetal, or staffelmauser.

LAMELLAE. Fine hair-like or plate-like structures lining the bills of some filter-feeding birds.

LAMINIPLANTAR. Descriptive term for tarsus with divided scutes along the front surface and a smooth hindsurface; also termed bilaminiplantar.

LINING OR WING-LINING. Primary and secondary coverts of underwing. [added Vol. 3]

MANDIBLE. Used here as a term applying to either jaw, including the horny covering.

MANDIBULAR RAMI. The two halves of the lower mandible, separated by the soft tissue at the base but uniting distally at the gonys.

MANTLE. Area of upperparts between the hindneck and the anterior base of the wings.

MASK. A patch of contrasting colour on the face that surrounds the eyes and lores, meeting at or above the lores.

MORPH. One of two or more well-defined forms in the same populations
of a species that, within individuals, does not change over time or
plumages. [text updated Vol. 5]

MOULT. Process by which all birds periodically shed and replace their plumage.

MOULT-CONTRAST. an obvious difference in colour and wear between adjacent feathers of different ages. A classic example occurs in adult breeding Common Terns, in which the contrast between newer paler inner primaries and older darker and more worn outer primaries on the upperwing forms a diagnostic field character. [added Vol. 3]

NASO-FRONTAL HINGE. Junction between the culmen and the skull, flexible in some birds.

ORBITAL RING. A bare fleshy ring immediately surrounding the eye, present in all birds but often thin, dark and practically invisible. [add Vol. 2]

OUTERWING. Primaries, primary coverts and alula. [added Vol. 3] Primaries and primary coverts combined. [Vol. 5]

OUTWARD. Moult in a row of feathers from inside to outside. Seen in the primaries of most birds.

PAPILLA. Small conical protruberance.

PENNACEOUS. Compact, closely knit texture forming coherent vanes in contour-feathers.

PLANTAR. Pertaining to the posterior surface of the tarus. [added Vol. 7]

PLUMAGE. A single generation of feathers brought about by a single moult. Sometimes applied to the aggregate of feathers covering a bird.

PLUME. Type of ornamental feather.

PLUMULACEOUS. Pertaining to long flexible barbs that are not close-knit, and give a vane a fluffy texture.

POST-ORBITAL PATCH: A patch of contrasting colour (plumage or skin) immediately behind the eye.

POWDER-DOWN. Soft friable down-feathers, producing fine dust particles used in care of plumage.

PRIMARIES. Flight-feathers borne on the manus, outside the carpal joint.

PRIMARY PROJECTION. On a folded wing, the distance primaries project beyond the longest tertial compared with the length of the exposed tertials. [added Vol. 3]

PROXIMAL. Pertaining to part of feather, wing, tail etc. closest to the body.

PTERYLOSIS. The way in which contour-feathers are arranged on the skin. Contour-feathers occur in orderly tracts called pterylae; the intervening spaces are called apteria.

RACHIS. The long distal portion of a feather-shaft, bearing the vanes.

RAMUS. A branch projecting from the rachis. Barbules are attached to, but not part of, the ramus.

RECTRICES (singular: rectrix). Tail-feathers.

REMICLE. Vestigial outermost primary.

REMIGES (singular: remex). A cumulative term for the primaries, secondaries and humerals, the flight-feathers forming the hind margin of the wing.

RICTUS. Skin at the junction of the mandibles.

ROSETHORN. See Fig. 21, Parts of birds.

RUMP. The area between the upper tail-coverts and the back; its upper boundary is generally the line between the tips of the secondaries in birds with outstretched wings.

SADDLE. The mantle, back and scapulars together. [added Vol. 3]

SCAPULAR CRESCENT. narrow pale crescent formed by white tips of rearmost scapulars, often prominent on standing gull or tern. [added Vol. 3]

SCAPULARS. A group of feathers on the upperparts, situated at the base of the wing.

SECONDARIES. Flight-feathers attached to the ulna, including the tertials.

SECONDARY BAR. Contrasting dark band on inner upperwing, formed by dark bases of secondaries. [added Vol. 3]

SIGNIFICANT. Shown by statistical test as unlikely to be due to chance (said of difference between means of two or more samples).

SIMULTANEOUS. A type of moult in which a group of feathers is shed at more or less the same time, inducing a period of flightlessness.

SKIN. A stuffed, unmounted study-specimen.

SPECULUM. A patch of distinctive colour on the wing; usually applied to the metallic patch seen in dabbling ducks.

STAFFELMAUSER. A pattern of moult in a row of feathers in which a wave of moult begins before the preceding wave is complete. This sometimes produces two or more active moult-centres in a row of feathers.

STANDARD DEVIATION. A statistical term describing the scatter round the mean in a sample of data. In a normal distribution, 99% of a sample lies within 2.58 standard deviations from the mean, 95% within 1.96 standard deviations.

STREAK. Pattern of colour oriented longitudinally on feather.

SUBHUMERALS. Under wing-coverts covering the base of the humerals; they are continuous with axillaries, which differ in being attached to the body.

SUBHUMERAL COVERTS. All small coverts at the base of the underside of the wing, between the subhumerals and the marginal coverts.

SUBMARGINAL Describes feather-markings that lie near and parallel to the fringes of feather (see Parts of Birds Fig. 23). [added Vol. 2]

SUBORBITAL PATCH. A patch of contrasting colour immediately below the eye. Post-orbital patches are found just behind the eye.

TAIL-COVERTS: Coverts that overlie the bases of the rectrices, both dorsally (uppertail-coverts) and ventrally (undertail-coverts) and that flex with the tail. Uppertail-coverts generally lie between the preen gland and the rectrices, covering the base of the rectrices; undertail-coverts lie between vent and rectrices. See illustrations in Parts of Birds: uppertail-coverts; undertail-coverts.

TAIL-STREAMERS. specialised rectrices (usually long and pointed) that project beyond other rectrices. Examples in this volume are tl of adult breeding jaegers and t6 of many terns. [added Vol. 3]

TARSUS. Strictly, shortened form of tarsometatarsus, osteologically the upper foot of birds. Also used as a general term for this area of the leg, the part between the toes and the tibia.

TEGMEN. Term coined by Gladstone (1918) for broad translucent film bordering the ramus on the underside of the remiges of some birds.

TERTIAL CRESCENT. narrow to broad pale crescent formed by white tips of longest tertials, often prominent on standing gull or tern. [added Vol. 3]

TERTIALS. The innermost secondaries; on the outstretched wing their tips do not line up with the line formed by the tips of the outer secondaries. The term has also been applied to humerals; we have not used it in this sense.

TERTIARIES. Synonym for tertials and apparently preferred choice in Campbell & Lack (1985). ‘Tertials’ is obligatory in Anseriforms and used throughout Plumages section here but may be used indifferently in species’ accounts. [From Vol. 5 – Not used in HANZAB.]

THIGH. The feathered portion of the tibia.

TIBIA. Strictly, shortened form of tibiotarsus, the osteological equivalent of the shin in birds. Also used as a general term for this area of the leg, the uppermost part visible in the field in most species.

UNDERBODY: Ventral body plumage, not including underwing and undertail. [added Vol. 3]

UNDERPARTS. In the Plumages texts, cumulative term for the ventral side of the body, excluding the wings, tail and chin, throat and foreneck (cf. use in Field Identification section). [text changed Vol. 5]

UPPERBODY. Dorsal body plumage, not including upperwing and uppertail. [added Vol. 5]

UPPERPARTS. In the Plumages texts, cumulative term for the dorsal side of the body, excluding the wings, tail and dorsal surface of head and neck (cf. use in Field Identification section). [text changed Vol. 5]

UPPER TAIL-COVERTS. Feathers generally occurring between the preen gland and the tail-feathers; they cover the base of the rectrices and flex with the tail.

VANE. Also web. A rather flat structure attached to the side of the rachis of pennaceous feathers, formed by a coherent series of barbs.

VARIATION. Differences in any character between animals of the same species. The following broad types of variation may be recognized: individual (between individuals of the same population, sex, age, and studied at the same season), seasonal, sexual, age and geographical.

VENT. Area round the cloaca and anterior under tail-coverts. Sometimes applied to the cloaca alone; we have not used it in this sense.

VENTER. Under-surface of body.

WING-BAR. Transverse band of contrasting colour in any part of the wing.

WING-FORMULA. Configuration of tips of primaries relative to each other, expressed as distances from tip of each primary to the longest primary, on the folded wing.

WING-POINT: In the Field Identification accounts, refers to that part of the wing- tip visible beyond the longest tertial on a folded wing (see also Primary projection). For birds in the hand, refers to the longest primary on the folded wing. [added Vol. 5]

WEB: A rather flat structure attached to the side of the rachis of pennaceous feathers, formed by a coherent series of barbs. Also called a vane.

WING-BAR: Transverse band of contrasting colour in any part of the wing.

WING-COVERTS: Coverts that overlie the bases of primaries (primary coverts) or secondaries (secondary coverts), both dorsally (upperwing-coverts) or ventrally (underwing-coverts). Both primary and secondary coverts can be further subdivided to marginal, lesser, median and greater coverts (see illustrations in Parts of Birds: upper-wing-coverts; underwing-coverts).

WING-FORMULA: Configuration of tips of primaries relative to each other, expressed as distances from tip of each primary to the longest primary on the folded wing.

WING-POINT. in the Field Identification accounts, refers to that part of the wing-tip visible beyond the longest tertial on a folded wing; see also primary projection. For birds in the hand, refers to the longest primary on the folded wing. [added Vol. 3]

ZIRKELNING: probing with bill gaping.


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Habitat Glossary

This glossary defines the principal terms used for habitat description in our text, in recognition of the need to standardize and increase the precision of such terms. A number of other terms are used throughout according to general English usage and are not defined here. References used in producing this compilation are Moore (1949), Press & Siever (1978), Corrick & Norman (1980), Gosper (1981), Pearce (1981), Specht (1981), Corrick (1982), Ainley & Boekelheide (1983), Ainley et al. (1984), McDonald et al. (1984), Aust. Atlas, and BWP.

ACACIA SCRUB. Vegetation dominated by shrubs of the genus Acacia; includes open-scrub, tall shrubland, tall open-shrubland and low open-shrubland of Specht (1981).

ANABRANCH (anastomosing plus branch). Branch that leaves river and re-enters it downstream.


ANTARCTIC SLOPE FRONT. Oceanic zone overlying Antarctic continental slope, where shelf-water meets circumpolar deep water, and strong gradients of temperature, salinity and turbidity occur.

AQUATIC VEGETATION. Plants growing in water; may reach but not project above surface.

ARID ZONE. Regions where mean annual rainfall is less than 250 mm.

ATOLL. Coral reef in the shape of a ring or horseshoe, broken or continuous; enclosing a lagoon.

BACKWASH. Return flow of water down beach after wave has broken.

BILLABONG. Properly an ox-bow lake, formed when a meander of a river is cut off as the river modifies its course; popularly used for other water-bodies.

BORE. Hole drilled in the ground from which underground water is pumped and reticulated.

BOUNDARY CURRENTS. Fast-flowing currents concentrated along edges of major oceans. Poleward currents on western edges of oceans are very intense and are known as WESTERN BOUNDARY CURRENTS.

BRAIDED RIVER (STREAM). Intricate system of interlacing channels, formed in wide river-beds choked with coarse sediments.

CAY. Flat mound of sand built up on reef flat slightly above high-tide level.

CLEAR-FELLING. Forestry operation in which all trees on a site are cut down.

CLIMATIC ZONES. GLOBAL. Five main zones into which Earth is divided according to climate. Comprise Tropical Zone: region lying between the Tropics of Cancer (23°27’N) and Capricorn (23°27’S); Frigid Zones: regions enclosed by Antarctic Circle (66°33’S) and Arctic Circle (66°33’N); Temperate Zones: regions lying between Tropical and Frigid Zones. MARINE. Climatic zones of oceanic surface water defined by Ainley & Boekelheide (1983). Tropical Zone: waters with sea surface-temperature (SST) of at least 22.0 °C. Subtropical Zone: SST 14.0-21.9 °C. Subantarctic Zone: SST 4.0—13.9 °C. Antarctic Zone: SST below 4.0 °C.

CONTINENTAL SHELF. Underwater plateau extending from coast to a depth of about 200 m; shelf-waters: zone of water over the continental shelf.  

CONTINENTAL SLOPE. Beyond edge of continental shelf, ocean floor slopes to the abyssal plain (often at depths >4000 m). Worldwide, slope averages 4° but round Aust. may be up to 40° (Bunt 1987).

CREEK. Stream of less volume than a river; small tidal channel through a coastal marsh; wide arm of a river or bay. Popularly applied in Aust. to any, rather small, drainage channel or waterway, permanent or impermanent, inland or coastal.

DAM. Small (<10 ha), artificial water storage formed by excavation or impoundment; used for stock watering, irrigation or domestic supply in agricultural or pastoral regions.

DRY SEASON. Season in monsoonal areas when little rain falls; usually Apr. to Nov. in ne. Aust.

DUNE. Hill or ridge of sand formed by wind-blown sand or other granular material. CONSOLIDATED DUNE. Dune stabilized by cover of vegetation.

EMERGENT VEGETATION. Plants projecting above canopy or water surface.

EUTROPHICATION. Formation of superabundance of algal life in body of water, caused by influx of nutrients.

FIORD. Former glacial valley with steep walls, now occupied by sea.

FLOODPLAIN. Plain bordering a river; formed from sediments deposited during intermittent or seasonal flooding, and characterized by billabongs, swamps, meandering creeks.

FOREST. Vegetation of trees, usually over 10 m high, with projective foliage cover of more than 50%; includes tall open-forest, open-forest and low open-forest of Specht (1981).

FRONT (OCEANIC). Line or zone of separation at sea surface between water-masses of different physical characteristics, particularly temperature.

GIBBER PLAIN. Level land covered with pebbles, usually in arid regions; little vegetation; barren stony waste.

GUANO. Compacted mass of faeces of colonial species of birds; accumulated over many years.

HEATH. Vegetation dominated by shrubs; includes closed-heathland, open-heathland and dwarf open-heathland of Specht (1981).

HERB. Non-woody plant.

ICE. Types discussed in the text are: SHELF-ICE: floating seaward extension of continental glaciers; SEA-ICE: ice formed by freezing of sea water; PACK-ICE: unattached sea-ice, varying from open to fully consolidated; FAST-ICE: sea-ice attached to shelf-ice or land; ICEBERG: mass of land-ice broken off from glacier and afloat at sea; ICE-FLOE: small mass of floating ice detached from pack-ice, limits usually within sight.

IMPROVED PASTURE. Pasture to which fertilizer has been applied.

ISLAND. Piece of land surrounded by water. Marine islands can be classified according to origin; CONTINENTAL ISLAND: formed by separation from continental mainland; OCEANIC ISLAND: formed in ocean independent of mainland; VOLCANIC ISLAND: volcanic in origin; CORAL ISLAND: built by action of coral polyps.

ISOTHERM. Contour line joining points of equal temperature or equal average temperature; oceanic or atmospheric.

KRILL. Marine crustaceans; Arthropoda, Crustacea, order Euphausiacea, Euphausia or Nyctiphanes. Form swarms in Antarctic and subantarctic seas.

LAGOON. Strictly an enclosed coastal lake, pool or inlet, separated from ocean by broken or continuous banks of sand, earth or shingle; or waters enclosed by an atoll. In Aust. applied popularly to any rather shallow or small water-body such as billabong, pool or pond.

LEVEE. Natural ridge along bank of creek or river formed by deposition of silt during flooding; also artificial barrier to floods constructed in similar form.

LITTORAL. Intertidal area of sea or ocean.

MALLEE. Multi-stemmed eucalypt growing from subterranean rhizome; also vegetation in which mallee is dominant; corresponds to open-scrub of Specht (1981).

MANGROVE. Rhizophoraceae; many genera in Aust.

MEADOW. Seasonal or transient shallow freshwater wetland characterized by cover of low emergent vegetation, particularly semi-aquatic herbs.

MEANDER. Broad curves in creek or river forming as water erodes outer bank of curves and deposits sediment against inner bank.

MONSOON. Climatic regime in which the wind blows in one direction for about half the year and in the opposite direction for the other half. Prominent in tropics on e. sides of continents; in ne. Aust., moist onshore winds prevail in summer.

MONSOONAL REGIONS. Regions affected by the monsoon, and experiencing distinct wet and dry seasons. Within our limits, coastal and subcoastal ne. Aust. and adjacent islands.

MORAINE. Deposit of debris and rock fragments at margin of glacier.

PARK. Enclosed piece of public ground in urban areas, used for ornamental and recreational purposes; often planted with exotic grass, shrub and tree species, and containing artificial pools or lakes.

POLAR FRONT. Circumpolar Zone where cold Antarctic surface-water sinks below less dense subantarctic surface-water; northernmost extent coincides with 2 °C subsurface isotherm.

RAINFOREST. Dense forest growing in areas of heavy rainfall; trees are evergreen and predominantly broad-leaved; includes tall closed-forest, closed-forest, low closed-forest and closed-shrub of Specht (1981).

REED. Herbaceous erect plant, particularly of the genus Phragmites.

REEF. Ridge of rock or coral (CORAL REEF) in sea, just above or below the surface. RIP. Narrow, fast-flowing ocean current. RUSH. Herbaceous erect plant of the families Juncaceae, Typhaceae.

SALT LAKE. Lake, usually in arid or semi-arid zone, where evaporation exceeds inflow, so that water highly saline; in arid Aust., usually dry with flat barren surface-deposit of salt.

SALTBUSH. Vegetation in which chenopods are dominant, particularly AtriplexEnchylaenaRhagodia ; includes low-shrubland, low open-shrubland and very open sedgeland of Specht (1981).

SALTFIELD. Set of ponds for production of salt by natural evaporation of seawater.

SALTMARSH. Low-lying, flat land regularly or intermittently flooded by saline or brackish water and covered or fringed by halophytic vegetation; coastal or inland.

SALTPAN. Semi-permanent saline wetland; some aquatic plants (e.g. RuppiaLepilaena) in shallow waters; little or no emergent vegetation.

SCORIA. Congealed lava or lava fragments containing large number of vesicles.


SEAMOUNT. Submarine mountain rising at least 900 m above ocean floor.

SEDGE. Herbaceous erect plant; Cyperaceae and some other families.

SEMLARID ZONE. Regions with mean annual rainfall of 250–500 mm.

SHRUB. Woody plant <8 m tall, with many branches and ample foliage; replaces BWP’s BUSH; in common usage in Aust. for remote or undeveloped country.

SPINIFEX. Vegetational association in which mound-forming grasses, known collectively as spinifex, are dominant; Gramineae, Triodia and Plechtrachne.

STACK. Rocky islet or pillar near coastline, isolated by erosive action of waves.

SWAMP. Wetland area, permanent, seasonal or ephemeral; typically richly vegetated with emergent and aquatic plants. BWP classifies vegetated wetlands as MARSHES and SWAMPS on the basis of persistence of water, but the dry climate over much of our region ensures that few wetlands, shallow enough to support rich plant growth, are permanent.

TALUS. Deposit of angular fragments of weathered rock accumulated at base of cliff or steep slope.

TUSSOCK GRASSLAND. Grassland dominated by grasses forming discrete but open tussocks.

UNDERSTOREY. Shrub or tree layer below uppermost stratum.

VOLCANO. Vent in earth’s crust through which lava reaches surface; includes deposits surrounding vent.

VOLCANIC ASH. Fine particles of lava ejected from volcano in eruption and deposited as sediment on land.

VOLCANIC OR CINDER CONE. Conical hill built up of material ejected from volcano and deposited around outlet.

WET SEASON. Season in monsoonal areas when most rain falls; usually Dec.—Mar. in ne. Aust.

WOODLAND. Vegetation association of well-spaced trees less than 30m high; includes open-forest, low open-forest, woodland, low woodland, open-woodland and low open-woodland of Specht (1981).


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  • Moore, W.G. 1949. A Dictionary of Geography.
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  • Specht, R.L. 1981. Pp 163-297. In: Keast 1981.

Measurements Glossary


BILL (C) is the distance from the front edge of the cere to tip of bill.

BILL (N) is the distance from the distal corner of the nostril to the bill tip.

BILL (S) is the chord of the culmen from the bill tip to the naso-frontal hinge.


BILL DN: Depth of bill measured at anterior edge of nostrils [added Vol. 7]


BILL WN: Width of bill measured at anterior edge of nostrils [added Vol. 7]

BILL-DEPTH. Depth of bill (BILL D) is measured from the junction of frontal feathering with the exposed culmen, to the lower edge of the mandibular ramus below; it is the minimum depth possible at this point. Other conventions for taking these measurements are used for some species; these are given in the text. Width and depth of bill are subject to a great deal of shrinkage (Kinsky & Harper 1968; Fjeldså 1980) and are seldom used on skins.

BILL-WIDTH Width of bill (BILL W) is the distance between the tomia at the same point. Other conventions for taking these measurements are used for some species; these are given in the text. Width and depth of bill are subject to a great deal of shrinkage (Kinsky & Harper 1968; Fjeldså 1980) and are seldom used on skins.

BILL-LENGTH. Length of bill was measured with calipers to 0.1 mm. We generally measured exposed culmen, the chord of the culmen from the bill tip to the frontal feathering. In some birds, the junction of the frontal feathering is not clearly defined, and other methods are used; these methods are given in the respective texts.. In procellariforms, the tip of the upper mandible is hooked so that in some the curve of the maxillary unguis, and not the tip, is farthest from the base of the bill. In these circumstances, culmen is measured to the curve of the unguis and not the tip.
Post-mortem changes in dimensions of the bill may depend on its structure (Fjeldså 1980); for example, no changes have been found in most waders studied (Greenwood 1979; Engelmoer et al. 1983), but significant decreases and increases as great as 2.9% have been reported in some species (Summers 1976; Engelmoer et al. 1983).

EIGHTH PRIMARY. This measurement was described recently (Berthold & Friedrich 1979). As far as we know, there are no publications on its use on A’asian birds. We took the measurement with a narrow ruler, inserted between the bases of the eighth and ninth primaries. The correct point of insertion can be seen by turning back the primary under wing-coverts. The distance from this point to the tip of the stretched eighth primary was recorded to the nearest millimetre. Jenni & Winkler (1989) recommend the use of a piece of folded graph-paper rather than a ruler; our measurements were taken before their paper was published.
Measurements of eighth primary are recommended by EURING, and they may supersede measurements of wing-length, being more exact and more easily repeated; there is considerably less variation between measurers; the measurement may be less likely to injure live birds (Berthold & Friedrich 1979; Jenni & Winkler 1989). In small European passerines, there is no post-mortem shrinkage in measurements of the eighth primary. It is not known if shrinkage occurs in larger birds. Piersma (19883) has shown that shrinkage in wing-length is not caused by a decrease in length of the feathers, but preliminary data of Jenni & Winkler (1989) suggest that some shrinkage occurs in large birds, presumably caused by contraction of skin between the primaries. Length of eighth primary and wing-length are closely correlated, and conversion factors from one to the other can be developed. In passerines, the eighth primary is measured rather than other primaries, because it usually has the closest correlation with wing-length. It is not known whether this is so in other groups but measurement of other primaries may be more appropriate in some groups. For reference throughout and for further information, see Jenni & Winkler (1989).

MID-TOE. Middle toe is measured from the joint at the base of the middle toe (in front of the leg) to tip of middle claw. In some groups it is customary to measure the middle toe without the claw. Length of toe decreases by about 2% after skinning (Fjeldså 1980; BWP [Vol. 5]). Its measurement is also difficult to standardize from museum skins because preparation and alignment of feet vary.


TAIL-LENGTH. Length of tail was measured to the nearest millimetre: as the distance between the point of emergence of the central tail-feathers from the skin to the tip of the longest feather. Post-mortem changes in tail-length are slight and not well understood; decreases (Greenwood 1979) and increases (Bjordal 1983; Herremans 1985) have been reported.

TARSUS. Length of tarsus was measured to 0.1 mm from the midpoint of the hindside of the joint between the tibia and tarsus, to the midpoint of the joint between tarsus and middle toe in front. Shrinkage of tarsus is generally insignificant; Bjordal (1983) attributed the few reported post-mortem changes to difficulty in applying the measurement to exactly the same points in fresh and dried legs.

TOE As TOE C, but excluding the middle claw.

TOE C Length of middle toe was measured with calipers to 0.1 mm from the joint at the base of the middle toe (in front of the leg) to the tip of the middle claw.

TOTAL HEAD-LENGTH (THL) is measured to 0.1 mm with calipers, from the back of the skull to tip of bill. The measurement is becoming widely used for live birds because there is little variation between individual measurers. We have included it when data are available. THL cannot be taken consistently on skins, because the backs of their skulls are removed to differing extents during preparation.


WING-LENGTH. Maximum chord of the wing was measured to the nearest millimetre: from the carpal joint to the tip of the longest primary. This section of the wing is flattened against a butted rule and straightened as much as possible; maximum chord is thus the longest measurement possible between the carpal joint and the tip of the longest primary. We did not measure wings in which the longest primaries had severe abrasion. Measurements of maximum chord can vary somewhat between measurers, especially because the experienced tend to take longer measurements (e.g. Jenni & Winkler 1989 and references therein).
Natural chord, and flattened chord, measurements of length of wing, are measured from the same points, but both give a considerably shorter reading. We have taken neither, but frequently quote from literature in which these methods have been used. In the former, no straightening or flattening of the wing is used (see Baldwin et al. 1931; BTO 1984); in the latter, the wing is only flattened (see Witherby et al. 1938; BTO 1984). Both were more widely used in the past, but are now believed to be less easy to repeat than maximum chord (e.g. Evans 1964; Ewins 1985), partly because primaries can straighten somewhat when wet (Evans 1964). Wing-length decreases in museum specimens. Shrinkage of between 0.39 and 3% has been reported (Herremans 1985). Most studies of shrinkage have been done on waders. In these, the amount of shrinkage is larger in species with longer wings (Engelmoer er al. 1983). There is a good deal of individual variation in amount of shrinkage. Thus, it is probably impossible to apply a single conversion factor to all species. Shrinkage continues in skins until they have dried out. Engelmoer er al. (1983) found this took over 2 years in some waders, but shrinkage may stop in as little as 2 months in some auks (Harris 1980; Ewins 1985). Slight increases in wing-length after drying out have been reported (Engelmoer et al. 1983). These are unexplained; possibly wings can be stretched, or ligaments cut, by frequent remeasuring. Our samples were not large enough for us to attempt to eliminate these sources of bias.

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife Australia (2023). Glossary. [Text before updates sourced from: Marchant, S. et al (eds) 1990-2006 Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds.Volume 1 to 7.] Birdlife Australia. Birdlife Australia. Last modified 2023-11-28 09:59. Source: Accessed: July 23, 2024 Time Zone: +10:00