Quiz on Bird Topography: Wings 2

Identify the two labeled feather groups in the quiz below, with a couple of bonus questions.

Bird Topography: Wings 2

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Question 1
The feathers labeled A are called the...
A
Lesser coverts
B
Neck
C
Scapulars
D
Greater coverts
Question 1 Explanation: 
Correct! The lesser coverts are the tiny feathers that cover the bend of the wing (often called the "shoulder" but it's really analogous to our wrist), here nestled in between the back and the flank feathers. These are the same feathers that are red on a Red-winged Blackbird. On this bird the longer greater coverts are grayish and are obvious just below the lesser coverts. We're ignoring the median coverts, which form a band between the lesser and greater coverts, but in this photo they are blue and just blend in with the lesser coverts.
Question 2
The feathers labeled B are called the...
A
Lesser coverts
B
Mantle
C
Neck
D
Scapulars
Question 2 Explanation: 
Correct! The scapulars grow from the shoulder (scapula) and fan out and curve down to cover the base of the wing. On passerines like this bird they form a narrow band along each side of the back just above the folded wing. On many species they show a different color or pattern, but on unicolored birds like this one it's the contours of the surface that distinguish the feather groups. Here you can see the faint distinction of the pale highlight along the upper edge of the slightly bulging scapulars, which become darker (in shadow) as they curve down to the wing.
Question 3
The species is...
A
Little Blue Penguin
B
Eastern Bluebird
C
Blue Mockingbird
D
Mountain Bluebird
Question 3 Explanation: 
Correct! A bluebird by shape, and male Mountain Bluebird is the only one that's blue on the breast. I took this photo at The Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Guest Ranch near Choteau, Montana, in June.
Question 4
Bonus question: True or False, Mountain Bluebird's tail shape is "notched".
A
True
B
False
Question 4 Explanation: 
[Updated with the correct answer] - The tail is actually notched, although in this photo the appearance of a notched tail is exaggerated because of the viewing angle. The outer tail feathers are the lowest and outermost of the tail feathers, and the other feathers stack up and form a sort of arch above them. Therefore from this angle we see a big notch at the tip, but it's hard to be certain whether the notch is real or not. From directly above or below we would see a small notch because the central tail feathers are slightly shorter than the rest.
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7 thoughts on “Quiz on Bird Topography: Wings 2”

  1. David,
    The question about notched tail is interesting. Many photographs appear to show a pronounced notch in the tail, while others do not. I wouldn’t discount the possibility that some of these are authentic notches. Your own illustration in the field guide appears to show a notch as well.

    1. You’re right Matthew, my mistake. The tail is notched on bluebirds. From looking at photos just now it seems that the notch is bigger on Mountain than on Eastern, and on both of them it’s an unusual shape with only the central tail feathers much shorter than the rest. I found a good photo of Eastern here http://www.nemesisbird.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Eastern-Bluebird-male-2.jpg. I’ll update the quiz and the answer and try to cover up my error ;-). Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. Little Blue Penguin…? Very funny, David! Seriously, I’ve been following your blog for a long time, and love the detailed discussions on difficult species pairs (and groups). Goldeneyes, and Scoters come to mind as being particularly useful discussions. In fact, I just showed your Scoter illustrations in my class as preparation for our upcoming trip to the San Mateo County coast this weekend. Very timely! I’m hoping when you release the second edition of your guide, some of this structural material will make it’s way into the pages. Field marks are important, of course, but GISS is increasingly important for many birders, and worth the effort to include. Not many guide include such material, and I think it would further set your book apart from the others. All the best, Matthew

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