BIRD TOPOGRAPHY IN A NUTSHELL
Birds are covered in feathers. These modified scales have evolved to provide birds with the power of flight, warmth, contour and colour but also perform relatively unseen functions such as acting as ‘whiskers’ around the gape, or as ‘eyelashes’. When describing a bird as part of the identification process, it is useful to be aware of the main patterns of distribution of feathers on any given bird. Birds’ feathers appear in regions or tracts, which are more or less consistent across the different species. The areas labelled on ‘topographic’ maps of birds correspond to these tracts and are essentially transferable across the different groups; which is one reason why they are so useful. Detailed descriptions of birds are usually given from front to back, so let’s look at the different main feathers in that order. On the head there is the forehead and crown in the central area (which can be emphasised by lateral and median crowns stripes. Beneath the crown and above the eye and ear coverts are the supericilia, the pale ‘eyebrow’ above the usually darker eyestripe (which appears to pass through the eye). There is often a narrow ring around the eye called the eyering. In front of the eye, the region is called the lores. The ‘cheeks’ of a bird are called the ear coverts, the lower part of which is often marked by a dark moustachial stripe. Beneath this there is a pale submoustachial stripe and beneath that often a dark stripe called a malar stripe (or lateral throat stripe), beneath which is the self-explanatory throat. The lower back of the neck is the nape, the centre of the back behind this the mantle. Further back is the back, then the rump and then the upper tail coverts and lastly the longer tail feathers also called rectrices. Under the throat is the breast, then the belly, which after the legs is called the vent, and under the tail is the undertail coverts. The rest of the bird is basically wing feathers. These consist of the shoulder feathers, called the scapulars, the wing coverts which are (from the shoulder down) called lesser, median and greater coverts with the alula and primary coverts tucked under the greater coverts at the leading edge of the wing (around the bend). The inner longer, stiffer flight feathers (aka remiges) are called tertials, the middle section the secondaries and the outer (usually longest) flight feathers (which can make the point of the wing) are the primaries. These different wing feathers are attached to different bones in the wing, but that need not trouble you!