American Birding Podcast



Introducing: The Lifelook

One of the most interesting facets of birding culture is its unique vocabulary. From lifers to dips to cripplers, there’s an inherent joy in communicating with others about the highs and lows of birding using our own terminology. Maybe the best part of birding vocabulary is that it shows how alive and dynamic the culture is. As the scope of our shared experiences has expanded, new words and phrases have been coined and entered into popular usage.

I love learning new birding vocabulary. The one day I spent birding in Michigan (yep, you guessed it: Kirtland’s stakeout), I found it interesting how the local birders used the phrase “it’s all tee’d-up” to describe a bird perched atop a tree or in an otherwise conspicuous area. I hadn’t heard that before and haven’t heard it since. I’ve seen some really interesting British birding (or should I say twitching?) vocabulary online. I particularly like dude, which as I understand it basically means a bad birder, and plastic, which means an escaped or otherwise not countable bird.

Allow me the chance to propose a new inductee to the birding lexicon: the lifelook. The lifelook is simply the best look you’ve ever had at a species, whether or not the bird was a lifer. I think just about every birder is familiar with the feeling of getting his or her lifelook of a bird. I’ve even heard birders talk about this experience before, and yet there’s no concise way to describe the phenomenon of the lifelook. The linguistic niche is waiting to be filled.

I’m giving credit where credit is due: the lifelook is my fiancee’s brainchild. I can’t remember exactly when she thought of it, but I think it must’ve been one of the times we found a bird that was a lifer for her but not me, yet was the best look I’d ever had at that species. “Then it’s your lifelook,” she said.

The lifelook added meaning to our efforts to close the gap between her lifelist and mine. The day we found a worm-eating warbler perched on an open branch in a quiet glade of our local park, it was her lifebird, but it was my lifelook. The bird was eye-level and almost incomprehensibly still, without question one of the best extended looks I’ve ever had at any warbler. Although I’d first seen and identified a worm-eating warbler almost a decade before, that sighting was a highlight of my birding career, and I like being able to express that phenomenon with a single term.

So if you like the lifelook, consider spreading it around. Mark it in your birdjournal and enter it in the comments section of your eBird reports: This was my lifelook of a buff-breasted sandpiper! The lifelook has some good potential for spinoffs too. How about the lifelisten? And for photographers, the lifeshot?

Do you have any great lifelook stories? Do you think it’s a term worth spreading? And just as and perhaps even more importantly: what’s your favorite bit of birder jargon? Do you know any interesting regional birder vocabulary? Have you learned any special bird jargon in another language?