Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alpha Bravo Charlie Brown: The Best Banding Codes?

Everyone has a love-hate relationship with infamous 4-letter words (poop, soup, pope, work, tree, etc.). For many birders, it's the same with 4-letter banding/breeding codes, or at least it was for me. When I as first getting into the stuff and coming to terms with my inner nerd, the codes were a bit frustrating. Of course, I didn't know them, so I'd have to look them up half to time to figure out what other, cooler birders (oxymoron?) were talking about. Plus they don't always follow the same rules and sometimes they're not even faster to say than the bird's name itself, and then, of course, there's SORA, which used to stand for Solitary Rail but eventually became its own species name, showing that the American Dream is still alive and well.

Regardless, the banding codes are both useful in their function as, well, breeding and banding codes, and they're also pretty nifty once you've got the hang of it (which I don't). So, the big pressing question then is, which birds have the best 4-letter banding codes? Below is a list of some lucky, convenient, and/or otherwise excellent 4-letter codes. Feel free to comment with add-ons or objections:

LEGO--Lesser Goldfinch 
The source of so much fun and creativity for children, as well as significant pain in the soul for any unlucky and unshod persons who happened to step in the wrong place at the wrong time, this is the perfect code for a Lesser Goldfinch. They too, bring joy and creativity to children, and also are excruciatingly painful to the feet. Never heard anyone testify to that before? That's because there are no survivors. The bird is mostly sulphur, after all.

"I'm toxic in moderate doses, tehehe."
NOGO--Northern Goshawk
---begin transmission---

     "Col. Swainson's, this is Sergeant Tanager. Our migratory advance is underway and we've already pushed up canyon, brushing past the local defenders with ease. We'll move quickly from pine to pine and crest the summit by mid morning. The enemy will be taken completely by surprise. Out."
     "Roger that Tanager. We're moving in three battalions of Jays and Band-tailed Pigeon support behind you, will set up sweeping units and recon procedures. This is it Tanager. This is the day we seize control of the mountain and fulfill our destiny. If we pull this off, we'll all be heroes. Maintain vocal contact Tanager, update canyon status. We're waiting for your signal."
     "Tanager, do we proceed?"
     "TANAGER!?!? Respond!!!"
     "..chhhhh...(static)...this is--cough, splutter--Sergeant...Pewee. Tanager's dead. It's--cough--no--everyone's dead. Mother of God...it's a...it's a...NOGO sir...pull back! NOGO, NO GOOOOO-----------{screeching sounds and a sharp rip heard in the background}.

---end transmission---

Compliments of PRBYApparel.com

Except maybe for pigeons, no bird has so many plumage variations, so many different outfits, as the Mallard (factoring in domesticated of course). Common, garrulous, and gregarious, it is very appropriate that this bird's code is MALL, because obviously that's where they'd hang around all day if they could--and sometimes they do.

It's pretty disappointing this code couldn't go to the incredibly ripped Buff-breasted Sandpiper or the similarly toned Buff-breasted Flycatcher, but it's still cool even if misapplied. When one sees a Bufflehead in the buff, well then it all comes together (referring of course to the birder being in the buff). *This is best done only with unisex birding groups.

What a...flash!
COME--Common Merganser
HOME--Hooded Merganser
Mergansers, Sawbills, Ducks of the Hearth. Many is the angry or beleaguered birder who has wondered out to the edge of a great body of water. Perhaps he was running from his past. Perhaps he was depressed from coming in 2nd, again, in his State Big Year. Birders, like birds, travel great distances and to some extreme locales. They experience great emotional highs and lows. Perhaps the troubled birder sought the water for its cool, calming effect. Perhaps he sought it so he could finally see his reflection out in the world. Perhaps he was tempted to lean just a bit farther forward and fall in, letting the mystical body consume him, his problems, and his grief. 
How many such birders have been pulled back from the brink, then, when they see COME HOME floating by. All is well, gentle birder. The world has a place for you; be secure in it. Come home.

This is just a great code but there are few worse bird's for it. Killdeer are big, whiny sissies .They only way they'd kill someone is by screeching them to death...which is pretty metal actually. Ok.

"Well this one time, I thought about killing a bug."
SAND isn't especially fun, but this is about the most appropriate code for any bird. Sanderlings are born of the sand. They live, laugh, and love the sand. Sand courses through their lungs and pulses in their veins. For breakfast they have sand toast with sand butter, and at night they have sand steak. A life spent running up and down the sand is, for a Sanderling, a life well and wisely spent.
Several scientists have posited that the reason for their back-and-forth wave-running is actually the intention of breaking down (weathering and eroding) any larger shell chunks that are washed up on the beach, thereby creating more sand.

"Today this beach, tomorrow the coast...soon the world will all be sand."

SNOW--Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl = Super Convenient.
Take the above Sanderling paragraph and switch the bird for a Snowy and the sand for snow. It's an almost identical relationship, except Snowies don't create more snow by weathering a la Sanderlings. They create it by soliciting tears from the relatives of their victims. Let it snow, let it snow, let it...

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
HORE--Hoary Redpoll
Some recent studies have argued that Hoary Redpoll isn't even a distinct species, just an arctic/tundra sub-species of Common Redpoll. They can be told apart by their slightly larger size, more dominant white, and fainter streaking. They also can be told apart by their caked-on lipstick, their outrageous stiletto heels, their fishnets and short skirts, and their thoroughly trampy attitude.
It was that man, J.J. Audubon, who first made the observation, giving the species its name and code, when he observed one such harlot finch cavorting with some Common Redpolls.
He is recorded to have said, "What is that skanky bird there? It's like the other Redpolls but way more promiscuous, just swiveling hips and revealing her cloaca to anyone who'll buy her a seed at the feeder. Disgusting. HORE!"

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. What a floozy.
HOSP--House Sparrow 
Never mind the fact that they shouldn't actually live here, in the United States. These European interlopers are very generous sharers of other people's homes. HOSPitality is their game, truly, for they know the pains of homesickness and the troubles of finding comfort, a place to lay one's hat. At carnivals and in movie theaters, in airports and apartment complex parking garage overhangs all across the country, the House Sparrows strive to make the United States, their adopted country a little bit homier.

"I'll be the first bird to nest in the international space station."


  1. Great post Laurence. I like the NOGO transmission. Here are a couple more codes I thought of:
    Brant- BRAN, Manx Shearwater- MASH, Whimbrel- WHIM, Little Stint- LIST, Dovekie- DOVE, Horned Lark- HOLA, Ovenbird- OVEN, and my favorite, Purple Martin- PUMA.

    1. Score Brenton!

      PUMA is a sweet sounding code for sure.
      Horned Larks must like to party with their HOLA back girrrrl calls and Dovekie as DOVE...the bird it isn't.

      Nice contributions man.
      How would you Manx Shearwater and Brant? What's the angle?

    2. Brants need a lot of fiber in their diet and bran (preferably in flake or muffin form) is their preferred source of it. Manx Shearwaters love the show M*A*S*H and will fly around any boat that is showing it onboard (the secret for many pelagics) or perhaps they just thoroughly enjoy mashed potatoes, no one really knows.

    3. It sounds risky for pelagic ships to show M*A*S*H...people would get barfy so quickly, so I think it must be the mashed potatoes; who doesn't like them? Nobody, that's who!

      Good call with the Brant. I always wondered what they were diving for. Deep sea muffins obviously. I feel like an idiot again.

  2. Well, don't forget House Wren and Hooded Oriole.

    1. Yeah, those HOORs are pretty smutty too. Surprising they don't hang out with the HOREs more.

      I don't know what angle to take on the House Wren. Suggestions?

  3. OROR is rather unique as well as PARE, CANT, CORA, GREG, and HASH. I am sure there are many more.

    1. Oh yeah!
      Colorado birders get really excited about HASH of course, though CANT is a bit of a downer.

      I totally forgot about GREG. GREG is so ubiquitous, always around, always mild, reliable, such a nice guy. You only notice GREG when he's gone, and also when he's in breeding plumage!

  4. Don't forget about the Dickcissel. After thinking long and hard about your list of bird acronyms, this bird was the biggest omission.

    1. Long and hard eh?
      Maybe I just wanted someone to contemplate a DICK for such a long time.

      Nah...you got me, that was an impotent miss on my part. Embarrassing.

  5. NOGO is great! The best code and bird, of course :) HORE is hilarious.

    Laurence perhaps you should go through every breeding code for North American Birds, and do a part 2 of this. That would be a lot of fun to read.

    How about WISP. Wilson's Storm-Petrel. The common shearwater that is hard to miss, and is never a wisp. The poorly name banding code.

    Or SOTE. Sooty Tern. It actually kinda says the bird's name!

    HUGO. Hudsonian Godwit.

    LIMP. Limpkin. This bird is so strange it looks like it would LIMP as it walks.

    NOMO. Northern Mockingbird. Gangster for "No More".

    WAVI. Warbling Vireo. The warbling vireo's song is all over the place, and is quite, "wavy".

    SCOR. Scott's Oriole. "SCORE! We just saw a SCOR!"

    1. Nice Tommy!

      Scott's Oriole is always a score, and Limpkins totally are the patron saint bird of Tiny Tim.

      NOMO would be widely accepted by many people, even non-birders, as the generally feeling/attitude about Mockingbirds : )

  6. It's been ages since I've had to use the 4 letter codes, but on Sanderling, you missed the boat on their currency being the sand dollar.

    1. Uhh...Sanderlings use the American dollar, like all other non-communists. Sheesh.

      Nah you're right I totally flubbed it there. How embarrassing.

  7. This is awesome. NOMO LIMP DICK! NOMO LIMP DICK!

    1. hehehehe...I have nothing to add to this other than chuckles.

  8. You KILL me! And that's no BUFF!

  9. First, I have seen a lot of SNOW pics, but that, that one rules supreme. Only a cat in its clutches could improve it.

    Truly witty and funny stuff in this post. Love the NOGO transmission. It seems all the good codes have been taken in the post and/or comments, but here are a few more.

    CATE - Caspian Tern - the gal that GREG has absolutely no shot at dating.
    BOBO - Bobolink - a fitting name for a bird that looks like a clown.
    UPSA - Upland Sandpiper - as in "upsa-daisy" what's this sandpiper doing literally up in the daisies?
    And my favorite - COSH - Cory's Shearwater - the bird that ate Cory's math homework, a particular good excuse for that nasty assignment on hyperbolic problems (cosh, sinh, tanh, sech, csch, coth).

    1. "CATE - Caspian Tern - the gal that GREG has absolutely no shot at dating."
      --hehe awesome, nothing further to add here.
      "BOBO - Bobolink - a fitting name for a bird that looks like a clown."
      --solid, academic point

      "And my favorite - COSH - Cory's Shearwater - the bird that ate Cory's math homework, a particular good excuse for that nasty assignment on hyperbolic problems (cosh, sinh, tanh, sech, csch, coth)."
      --to try and respond in kind here I would only embarrass myself because I am terrible with math beyond a 5th grade level, but I respect the joke : )

      Thanks for stopping by Josh