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I'm sure the reader has seen a bird move its head about, no? When a bird is curious or wary, it moves its head about quickly, almost jerkily.

I have thought of using these words: bob, wrench, flick, tilt, wag, shift, waggle, pump, snap, flip, and dip. I like a few of them, but I was hoping some of you fine people could provide a word with better specificity.

In a sentence:

The crow flicked its head about, wary of my presence, gawking at me with beady eyes.

  • I cam imagine a bird bobbing its head (based on my recollection of my readings). You should also list the few others that you considered (and apparently discarded) so that answerers don't waste their time with those words. – alwayslearning Jul 10 '17 at 5:16
  • Like this example from the verb definition 1.1 of bob in ODO: ‘The bird bobs its head, showing more interest in its surroundings than the man who sustains an unaffected stare.’ – alwayslearning Jul 10 '17 at 5:24
  • I always assumed the word 'bob,' in its verb form, meant to duck one's head up and down. What I picture as a bird moves its head around is it turning side to side, staring at its target with one eye. Regardless, 'bob' does have a nice ring to it and I suppose in such a simple action, there must be some room for freedom in the movement. – Psychobagger Jul 10 '17 at 5:30
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    "When a bird is curious or wary, it moves its head about quickly, almost jerkily." - the way I read it a few decades ago, the eyes of (some kinds of?) birds are special and they actually need to actively move the head to be able to see static, non-moving stuff. If they were to hold their heads perfectly still, they would only see things that move. – AnoE Jul 10 '17 at 9:35
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    To me, all these descriptions of speedy movements all seem applicable to much smaller birds than crows. I get to watch crows a lot, Hooded crows being very common hereabouts, and wouldn't describe them as flicking or waggling. Their size makes the movement seem much more purposeful and I don't think I would describe a crow as doing anything other than 'turning' its head. – Spagirl Jul 10 '17 at 10:03
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Flicked is actually a great option in your original question. Here are some more:

Jerked

a quick, sharp, sudden movement.

Twitched

give or cause to give a short, sudden jerking or convulsive movement.

I like flicked. You could also choose to use an adverb like abruptly to emphasize further:

The crow abruptly flicked its head, wary of my presence, saccading his beady eyes in my direction.

Saccades are the quick eye movements that many animals, in particular birds, make. Humans do it too. For example when reading we make quick saccades to go from word to word and line to line.

Here is an article about the quick neck turning and saccading of bird's eyes:

Link to: Why do birds turn their neck so fast and saccade?

  • Thank you so much for replying! Flicked is indeed a nice word for the case. I cannot express how much I appreciate you bringing the anatomical aspect into the discussion. Now I know why birds do this! I will definitely be taking saccades into my vocabulary. Such a descriptive word for a tiny little piece of movement. I love it. – Psychobagger Jul 10 '17 at 6:03
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    Flicked is the best choice and I upvote; congrats also to OP @Psychobagger for already thinking of it and putting it in the question. Dometimes the word you think of is already the best option and we only need to confirm it. – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 6:15
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    @Psychobagger you are welcome, and keep taking active part in this English.StackExchange website! – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 6:23
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    Can bird's eye saccades be noted with the naked eye? These researchers had to glue things the chickens eyeballs when studying chicken eye and head movements? jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/97/1/217.full.pdf – Spagirl Jul 10 '17 at 10:15
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    I'd definitely advise against "saccade" in non-technical writing. It's the sort of word that has your readers reaching for the dictionary, destroying immersion in the story. – David Richerby Jul 10 '17 at 13:48
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A good word for this might be:

Swivel

It might suggest a more purposeful movement than jerk and twitch.

  • I do not know why that word escaped me. It has a good sound. Thank you for posting. – Psychobagger Jul 10 '17 at 16:11

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