Feb 15 2016
That’s a bird report headline from PABIRDS, February 7, 2016. If you’re not familiar with 4-letter bird codes it’s a meaningless message and you wouldn’t know these may be Life Birds. (Fortunately the names are inside the report.)
Few birds have short names so abbreviations come in handy when you’re writing down a lot of them … as we’re doing today for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) ran into this problem early on and made a standardized list of 4-letter codes for birds in North America based on their complete English names. The coding scheme works roughly like this.
- 4 words in name: First letter of each word. Greater white-fronted goose = GWFG
- 3 words in name: First letter of first 2 words + 2 letters of the last word. Great horned owl = GHOW, Red-eyed vireo = REVI.
EXCEPT if the last two words are hyphenated. I always get this wrong! It’s the reverse of the rule above and there aren’t many names that fit this pattern. Rule is: First 2 letters of first word + first letters of last 2 words:
- Eastern screech-owl = EASO
- Eastern wood-pewee = EAWP
- 2 words: First 2 letters of each word. Snow goose = SNGO, American robin = AMRO
- 1 word: First 4 letters. Sora = SORA, Brambling = BRAM
- Collisions: Sometimes two bird names result in the same code as in BTGW for both the Black-throated green warbler and Black-throated gray warbler. In this case, look up the code using the links below.
Now that you know how to decipher the codes, here’s a quiz.
What five birds are named in the image above?
Leave a comment with your answer.
(illustration by Kate St. John)