The colors and shapes of birds are variable, but the arrangement of feathers or feather areas on a bird’s body is remarkably similar across all species. Familiarizing with the group feathers and a bird’s body parts is among the most important tools ornithologists, and birders can have when trying to identify a bird by its appearance.
Learning the feather areas and feather types of a bird, such as feathers and body parts, will enable you not only to write a good description when you see a bird but also will enable you to understand someone else’s noted description of a bird others see.
Crown: Refers to the top area of the head.
Forehead: Area between the bill and the crown.
Auriculars or Ear Patches: Refers to the feathers that cover the ear area. This area is also known as the cheeks.
Eyering or Orbital feathers: Refers to the tiny feathers circling the eye.
Supercilium: Refers to the feathers that generally run from the bill’s base, above the eye, and back to varying lengths. These feathers are also known as the eyebrow.
Nape: Refers to the area behind the neck.
Chin: This is a very small area located at the base of the lower mandible, on the upper throat. It can often be a good clue to identify certain species.
Malar: Refers to the area along the sides of the lower mandible, between the throat and the Auricular Feathers. The malar area is also referred to as Mustachial Streak.
Throat: Refers to the area below the lower mandible.
Median Crown stripe: When present, it is the area that runs along the middle of the crown, generally beginning at the base of the upper mandible. Lateral crown stripes, when present, run along the median crown stripe.
Eyeline: When present, it is the stripe that extends from behind the eye towards the nape.
The mantle, rump, uppertail coverts, and folded wings are loosely referred to as the back or upper parts. The rump is generally under the folded wings of a perched bird.
The wing feathers are discussed in detail in a separate article.
Mantle: Area below the nape. A distinctive group of feathers that cover the upper back and are flanked by the scapular feathers.
Scapulars: Feathers that cover the base of the wing. Scapulars flank the mantle and generally cover the bend of the wing.
Rump: Refers to the area below the mantle down to the uppertail coverts. The rump is generally under the folded wings of a perched bird.
Uppertail Coverts: Feathers that cover the upper base of the tail.
Feathers on the folded wing
Lesser Coverts: Feathers near the leading edge of the wing that overlap the Median Coverts’ bases. These feathers are rarely visible in passerines and are usually concealed by Scapular and Side Feathers when the wing is folded.
Median Coverts: Feathers that overlap the bases of the Greater Coverts. The colored tips of the Median Coverts make the upper wing-bars in some birds.
Greater Coverts: Overlap the bases of the Secondaries. Colored tips of the Greater Coverts often are the lower wing bars in some birds.
The feather areas of a bird below the throat and folded wings are loosely referred to as underparts.
Breast: Refers to the area surrounded by the bottom of the throat, the sides or bend of the wing area, and the top of the belly.
Sides of the breast: Generally the area around the bend of the wing.
Flanks: Refers to the side areas below the folded wing.
Belly: The area surrounded by the breast, the flanks, and the Vent.
Vent: Refers to the area between the belly and undertail coverts.
Undertail Coverts: Feathers that overlap the bottom base of the tail.
Tarsus: It refers to the part of a bird’s leg between the thigh and the foot. The tarsus is the part of the leg between what appears to be a backward-facing ‘knee’ and what appears to be an ‘ankle.’
Tibial Feathering: Feathers that cover the tibia; above the tarsus.
See the feathers of a bird’s wing.
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