There is no excuse for putting a banner photo like this on a renowned birding site. It’s just that when summer is over and most wildlife rehabilitators are fried, this is the kind of thing that will make most of us fall to our knees, choking with laughter, tears spurting from our eyes. It’s sad but true: by September, we’re far beyond the reach of subtle humor.

A few weeks back I posted a question on Facebook, asking my rehabber friends about their use of slang and abbreviations. I received 138 replies, but you can only blog on for so long before your readers have to shut down their computers and get on with their lives. “Looks like I’m going to have to do a Rehabber Slang, Part 2,” I wrote.

“No #*%t,” replied reader Clarence Bartow.


So here’s the rest of it, complete with veering, zigzagging, and the eventual abandonment of the original topic altogether, which is what happens when you put rehabbers together in August.

So: we have bird identification shorthand, which is usually the bird’s North American Ornithological Society abbreviation, but which could be just one particular rehabber’s nickname for the species. Since young birds need to be raised together, this leads to time-challenged rehabbers calling each other up and saying, “I heard you have six MODOs (Mourning Doves), and I just got one in – so how about if I give you two MIKIs (Mississippi Kites) and four Bluebies (could be either Blue Jays or Eastern/Western Bluebirds) and I’ll take all your MODOs. Deal?”

For obvious reasons, Titmice (either Tufted or Black-crested) are the subject of great hilarity (thank God we don’t live where there are Great Tits). The most printable slang is the logical TTs, which Maureen Eiger wrote means “Tyrant Titmouse,” a reference to their over-the-top personalities. Jodi Swenson wrote they sound like they’re saying “Feed Me,” which reminded me of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors; if you click here you will see what hungry babies look like to rehabbers by the end of the season, especially to those who do raptors.

“You already know what I call accipiters,” said Jayne Neville, a songbird rehabber who refers to the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks who try to eat her recently released fledglings as either %#@^*s or *&$#%s. “Jayne, you shouldn’t even be allowed in this conversation,” replied Eileen Wicker, a raptor rehabilitator who has been Jayne’s friend for decades. “We do real birds.”

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“You raptor people!” snorted Veronica Bowers, another songbird rehabber. “You should worship the ground on which we walk, and kiss our mealworm- and hemostat-wielding hands!”

Then you have the poor, pathetic fence-sitters, of which I am one, who do both songbirds and raptors; and which allows us to tenderly nurse certain birds back to health and curse them out at the same time.

“Ramousky,” wrote Erin Smithies-Baker, referring to the enrichment idea her colleague Lisa Kelly came up with for their unreleasable Turkey Vultures. “It’s the rehabber version of turducken.”

I had never heard of turducken, and was filled with apprehension as I googled it. For non-chef readers, if there are any, turducken consists of a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, which is then stuffed into a deboned turkey. You’d think it would give a bird rehabber nightmares, but we have enough nightmares as it is; sometimes you just have to immediately block things out, which I did with turducken. But not Lisa Kelly, who riffed on it and invented “ramousky,” which is a pinkie (just-born) mouse stuffed inside an adult mouse stuffed inside a rat, and evidently big fun for vultures (all rodents are deceased before the stuffing occurs).

“More slang?” asked Erin, who is primarily a turtle rehabber. “Here’s one: ‘the turtle’s head exploded.’ That’s what we call it when they come in with a ruptured ear abscess. Usually EBTs.”


“Eastern Box Turtles.”

“‘Hostage negotiations,’” wrote Debbie Souza-Pappas. “That’s what we call it when you try to get a hold of wildlife that the idiot in possession thinks they can take care of better than you.”

“‘Donation Hostage,’” said Letitia Labbie. “That’s when someone offers you a donation but puts conditions on it – like you have to save this bird (the one who obviously will not make it, no matter what you do) and the supposed donor also must be allowed to visit weekly.’”

“‘Birdnapped,” wrote Maureen Eiger. “That’s when someone takes a baby bird away from the parents. Then there’s the rarely-used NSI – No Specific Injury. If there’s no specific injury, then why the hell is the bird here? Probably birdnapped.”


Suddenly the thread veered off into the viciousness of Northern Cardinals. “They are MOFO biters!” wrote Lainiebird LaHaye, using an abbreviation not specific to rehabbers. She then posted this photo, along with the caption “YEOWCH!”

Grosbeaks are worse!” Jayne Neville chimed in, inciting rehabbers to compare the biting ability of various seed-eaters, grackles, and parrots. “Crows hold on and twist!” wrote Laura Westlake. “Try having one grab your nipple!”

I demanded an explanation from Laura, who replied, “You’re nail clipping, giving medications, carrying them close to your chest, then WHAM! Happy? You want the videotape?”

“Ok, peeps,” wrote Johanna Walton. “How about trying to catch five fledgling phoebes who are circling your head like little parachutes, then having one perch on your lower eyelid with her hallux (backward-facing toe) locked! Of course, my lid and cornea were dripping blood, and all I could think about was NOT doing anything to hurt the precious little bird who so innocently wanted to take a break from flying!”

You could almost hear the rehabbers chortling from their various corners of the universe, what with all the LOLs and LMAOs being thrown about.

“Yup, I have a permanent scar on my cornea that only my ophthalmologist can appreciate,” wrote Johanna. “And I am proud to say, he said it was one of his ‘top three professional lifetime bizarre stories.’ I wonder what the other two were?”

Written by Suzie
Suzie Gilbert is a wild bird rehabilitator whose shameful secret is that on more than one occasion she has received a female LBJ, or a fledgling whatever, and has been completely unable to ID it. Luckily she has birder friends who will rush to her aid, although she must then suffer their mockery. She is the author of her bird-rehabbing memoir Flyaway (HarperCollins) and the children's book Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books). Her recent suspenseful, bird-filled adventure novel Unflappable (Perch Press) was selected by Audubon Magazine as one of their Three Best Summer Reads of 2020. She lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley and is always up for a good hike.