Alpha Codes are "official" shorthand codes to identify birds             


Below is a summary of all the rules you need to work out any Alpha code: (from Chris West-- North America Birding)

Other sources include: The Institute for Bird Populations,  ( in accordance with the 57th AOU Supplement (2016)

#1: Two word names. These are the most common names. Things like Harlequin Duck, American Robin, Magnolia Warbler, etc. Birds with two common names are easy to translate over to Alpha Codes. Simply take the first two letters of the first name and the first two letters of the second name and voila!  Harlequin Duck becomes HADU, the Robin becomes AMRO and Magnolia Warbler becomes MAWA.

#2: Three word names, hyphenated and non-hyphenated.   American Black Duck, Black-capped Vireo, Fulvous Whistling-duck.  This is the tricky one. Use the first two letters of the first name and the first letter of the second and third names. Hence AMBU. (Corrected via AOU and others) But, when the first name is hyphenated, use the first letter of the first two names and the first two letters of the last name. Thus: BCVI.  When the last name is hyphenated, use the first two letters of the first name and the first letter of each of the last names. Thus: FUWD.

#3: Four word names, hyphenated and non-hyphenated: American Three-toed Woodpecker, Black-bellied Whistling-duck, Black-crowned Night-heron.  The rule here is the first letter of each name is used.  Thus: ATTW, BBWD and BCNH.

#4: Some birds have one word names. These are easy. Simply use the first four letters of the name. Therefore: Bushtit becomes BUSH, Wrentit becomes WREN and Sora, well, I think that one’s too easy. ;)

#5: Now it gets slightly trickier. Some species Banding Codes overlap. Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Gray Warblers.  The rule in this case is to use whatever letters (going in order from left to right) the other name doesn’t have.  Thus: Bar-tailed Godwit becomes BTGO (corrected via AOU) and Black-tailed becomes BTGD(corrected via AOU) because the second letter in the first name of both birds is different from the other.  Black-throated Green Warbler becomes BTNW and Black-throated Gray becomes BTYW. Why? Because the middle (third) name of both species is different but the first two letters of those names are the same. Therefore, the last letter of the third name is used.  Because Black-throated Blue Warbler has a different first letter in its third name, it is simply BTBW.


Alpha Code Quiz
What do you think the code is for these three birds?
Click on the SNOW below  to see if you are correct

Swainson's Hawk                                                                                                                Bald Eagle

   Black-crowned Night Heron                                                                                                 Snowy Owl

Click here for answers