Glossary of Nature Habitat Terms


accipiters :: small to medium-sized hawks, of the genus Accipiter, characterized by short-broad wings and a long tail, i.e., Cooper’s Hawk
alluvium :: sediment or soil that is deposited by a river or running water
amphibians :: cold-blooded, smooth-skinned vertebrae of the class Amphibia, such as a frog or salamander, that characteristically hatch as aquatic larva with gills. The larva then transforms into an adult having air-breathing lungs.
argillite :: fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting mostly of hardened clay particles


basic (warbler plumage) :: refers to birds in non-breeding plumage. Warblers begin to molt their bright breeding plummages to duller plumages in late-summer early-fall, making identification more challenging.
biodiversity :: the biological variety of a particular environment as reflected by the number of different species of plant and animals present
blind :: a structure used by wildlife watchers and hunters to prevent themselves from being seen by wildlife
bog :: a permanently wet area that gets water only from precipitation. Bogs usually lack drainage and are characterized by a high content of organic matter, extreme acidity and low fertility.
boreal :: typically the northern region of North America characterized by long harsh winters and short summers. The Boreal Forest, an extensive band of coniferous trees, stretches across the northern latitude of North American and Eurasia.
brackish :: water that is a mixture of both fresh and salt water
brood :: the eggs or young of birds and reptiles that are hatched and cared for at one time


cache ::the collection and storage of food to last through winter by animals such as squirrels and other rodents
canopies :: the highest layer of foliage provided by trees and shrubs in forests and woodlands
catadromous :: describes fish that live in fresh water but migrate to salt water to breed
cavity :: a hollowed out space in a tree typically used as a nest area by owls and woodpeckers
chrysalis :: The pupal or transformatory stage of a butterfly’s life; also the protective covering of the pupa
composites :: rocks that are made up of two or more distinct materials that retain their original compositions
contiguous :: lands that share a common border
copses :: the plural for a dense grouping of small trees and shrubs, also known as a thicket or coppice
coniferous :: describes a type of forest characterized by mostly needle-leaved, cone-bearing trees or shrubs, such as pine, spruce, and fir
crepuscular :: refers to animals that are primarily active during twilight hours including both dusk and dawn
crop :: an expanded muscular pouch near the throat where food is temporaily stored and then digested


dabbling :: refers to ducks that feed mostly on vegetable matter by submerging their upper bodies enabling them to graze below the surface; rarely will they dive for food. Some examples are Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall and Northern Pintail
deciduous :: describes a type of forest characterized by trees that seasonally shed their leaves
detritus :: organic waste material produced by the decomposition of dead plants and animals.
diabase :: a crystalline igneous rock rich in magnesium & iron content; equivalent to volcanic basalt
diurnal :: refers to a species that is active during the day, rather than at night
dredge spoil :: material that is removed from an area, usually waterways, and placed elsewhere


early successional :: A habitat consisting of plant species that are the first to take root and grow back after an area has been cleared.  Early successional birds live in habitats that consist mostly of grasses and small shrubs
ecotones :: the area where two adjacent ecosystems transition, i.e, woodlands transition to meadow
edge habitat :: an area in which habitats transition such as where a field transitions to a woodland. Many species of birds take advantage of edge habitats such as Gray Catbird, Eastern Kingbird and Eastern Towhee.
emergent wetlands :: wetlands characterized by the colonization of erect, rooted plants that are able to live in water or very moist soils
empidonax :: a group of small insect-eating passerines commonly called tyrant flycatchers whose genus Empidonax falls within the family order Tyrannidae
ephemerals :: lasting for one day only or lasting for a short period of time
erratics :: Seemingly out of place rocks and boulders carried to their present day location by glacial ice and deposited when the ice melted
estuary :: the point at which a river meets the sea; where salt water and fresh water mix.
extirpate :: to eliminate completely
eyries :: the nests of birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon usually built in high places such as trees or cliffs


fallow :: describes lands that are plowed, then left unseeded for a season
fecund ::fruitful, fertile
fen :: a wetland fed by surface and/or groundwater usually possessing alkaline or neutral water chemistry especially if it contains a limestone base
flotsam and jetsam :: a general term used to describe anything that is floating in the water or possibly washed up on shore
fish ladder :: a man-made series of pools at the side of a stream arranged like ascending steps, enabling migrating fish to swim upstream around a dam or other obstruction
fledglings :: young birds that have just left the nest, but are still not ready to go off completely on their own
flora and fauna :: the plants (flora) and animals (fauna) found in a specific area
food chain :: a community of organisms in which each member is eaten in turn by another member
fry :: recently hatched or juvenile fish
fungi :: a kingdom of plantlike organisms that grow without roots, stems, leaves and photosynthesis, such as mushrooms and lichen


glacial lake :: the result of melted ice from retreating glacier
gneiss :: igneous or sedimentary rocks that were subjected to metamorphic conditions such as high heat and pressure
gut :: a narrow passage or channel of water


hacking :: A process during which young raptors (often abandoned) are raised by human caretakers in a type of nest box, called a hack. Note: Raptors and other migratory birds are protected by law and this type of process can only be done by those who have the proper state and federal licenses.
herbaceous :: a green plant that is distinguished from woody plants by being leaflike in appearance and texture
hibernaculum :: zoologically refers to a shelter used by hibernating animals, botanically refers to a protective casing a plant uses to survive changing weather conditions during its dormant period.
host plants :: plants upon which butterflies lay their eggs and caterpillars feed
hummock :: a low mound or ridge of earth; a knoll


igneous :: rocks that are created when molten rock cools and solidifies
Important Bird Areas :: Sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of birds and that make a significant contribution to the long-term viability of native avian populations. These may include sites for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds.
invasive :: a species that is non-native and due to rapid reproduction, strangling other species or changing the chemistry of the soil it becomes detrimental to the habitat in which it resides
irruption :: an unusually large influx of birds to an area; often associated with winter finches and usually caused by a shortage of food elsewhere


jurassic :: a geologic period spanning 199.6 – 145.5 million years ago


kettling :: the tendency of groups of hawks to swirl together in a thermal (see below)
kettle :: refers to a group of hawks circling together on thermal updrafts


larvae :: the early life stage of certain insects such as a caterpillar
leaf litter :: leaf matter in different stages of decomposition
Lepidoptera :: the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths
lichen :: a fungus that grows co-dependently with algae, resulting in an organism that characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks
lowland :: land that is lower than the surrounding area and has a higher water table making it more attractive to water dependent species such as shorebirds, wading birds, muskrats, turtles and frogs


macroinvertebrates :: aquatic invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, molluscs and worms found in rivers, ponds, lakes, wetlands and oceans
Monoculture :: a system that contains very little diversity


native :: a plant, animal or insect that is indigenous to the region
nectaring :: the act of feeding on flower nectar by butterflies and hummingbirds
neotropical :: refers to species that nest in North American sites but spend up to six winter months in warmer climates of the Americas including Mexico, and Central and South America
neotropical passerines :: perching birds or songbirds that fall within the order of passeriformes that breed in North American and winter in the neotropical ecozones that include Southern Florida, South and Central America, Mexican lowlands and the Caribbean
neotropical songbirds :: same as neotropical passerines
nocturnal :: refers to a species that is active during the night, rather than the day


odonata :: the order of insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies
ordovician :: “the second of the six geologic periods from the paleozoic era spanning 488.3 – 443.7 million years ago ”
owl pellets :: the indigestible parts of an owl’s latest meal, including whole and broken bones. This mass of fur, feathers and bones is too large to pass through the rest of the owl’s digestive tract and is regurgitated as a compact pellet


paleozoic :: the geologic era spanning 542 – 251 million years ago
passerine :: birds in the order Passeriformes more commonly known as perching birds or songbirds such as jays, blackbirds, finches, warblers and sparrows
pelagic :: describes animals that live their lives almost entirely in open oceans or seas, returning to land only to breed, nest and raise young
perched wetlands :: wetlands that are removed from streams or rivers and fed solely by drainage water
phragmites :: or common reed, is a plant species found in marshes and wetlands and is most commonly associated with brackish water. Its stems can grow up to 20 feet tall and it is recognizable by its fluffy brown seed head
pishing :: an imitated bird call most often used to draw birds out into the open for identification
plunge diving :: describes a bird’s act of diving headfirst into water in pursuit of food
prehensile :: the body part of an animal that has been adapted for grasping, in the case of American Woodcock, its beak is able to grasp earthworms. Other examples of this ability are the trunk of an elephant, the tongue of a giraffe or the lips of a horse
precambrian :: the geologic time period that begins with the earth’s creation and stretches to 590 million year ago
pupate :: the process by which an insect passes through its pupal stage or stage of transformation


raptor :: a bird of prey; including hawks, falcons, kites, eagles and owls
right-of-way :: a strip of land occupied by a street, railroad, electric transmission line, water main, sewer main, trail or other special use
riparian :: related to, or having a location on the banks of a natural course of water such as a river or stream
riparian buffer :: lands adjacent to streams that contain vegetation that provides habitat for wildlife, flood control and streambank stabilization along with providing a buffer from human intervention
rookery :: a place where birds of the same species breed and nest, especially herons and egrets
rushes :: water loving grass-like plants with cylindrical stems that are often hollow, such as bulrush, common rush and soft rush


scats :: excrement of small carnivores, herbivores or omnivores, such as fox, coyote, raccoon, squirrels etc., often used to aid indentification when tracking an animal.
shrub/scrub :: woody vegetation that is less than 20 feet tall found in upland, lowland or wetland areas
sinkholes :: a depression in the earth’s surface caused when the soil or bedrock is removed by water
spartina :: grass of freshwater swamp or marshland
spawning :: to deposit eggs in large numbers. Horseshoe crabs spawn on the beaches of the Delaware Bay in May, and shorebirds, which eat the eggs, are provided with food
staging :: the act of gathering in large groups in prime feeding habitat at the outset of migration.  Purple Martin, for example, gather along the Delaware Bayshore from mid to late August before suddenly and collectively departing to continue their southward migration
stolons :: horizontal shoots from a plant that grow above or just under ground and are able to produce copies of the plant from buds
successional :: habitat consisting of plant species that take root and grow back after an area has been cleared. There are different degrees of succession along with different successional habitats


terminal :: the last bands on the tail or wing of birds, frequently used for identification
thermals :: columns of warm air that rise when the ground is heated by the sun. Raptors take advantage of these upward air movements to gain altitude during migration. The birds circle upward within the column of rising air and then glide down to the base of another thermal
tidal marshes :: low, flat marshlands that are traversed by channels and tidal hollows; usually subject to tidal inundation and may contain fresh, brackish or salinized water
topography :: the study of the earth’s surface features usually recorded in three-dimensional form, such as relief maps
triassic :: a geologic period and system spanning 251.0 – 199.0 million years ago


understory :: the underlying layer of vegetation that grows beneath a forest’s canopy, usually includes small trees and tall shrubs, such as dogwood, ironwood, spicebush and ferns
upland :: land that lies above the flood plain; land that is elevated and is far enough away from a body of water that its vegetation is dependent on rainfall
upland buffers :: a measured zone of natural area comprised of undisturbed native vegetation designed to protect a critical habitat. Buffers that are not associated with streamside or wetland areas are considered to be upland buffers


vernal :: relates to or occurs in the Spring, i.e., vernal pool is a temporary body of water usually created in the Spring from runoff. It dries up as the weather gets hotter
vernal pool :: a small pool that dries out periodically. Vernal pools generally contain water in the spring and early summer, dry out in late summer and fill again in the fall. Some species, such as wood frogs and other amphibians require vernal pools to survive during various parts of their life cycles


whitewash :: white stains from bird excrements that are usually found where birds perch or nest