General Anatomy of Birds: Body

A diagram illustrating the different parts of a bird's general anatomy.

Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Anatomy diagram

A diagram illustrating the anatomy of birds' feathers and feet.

Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Wings

Diagram of the anatomy of a bird's wing.

Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Altricial- referred to as nestlings, altricial birds are either naked or have very sparse down at hatching. Usually have their eyes closed at hatching, are fed by their parents for some period of time, and may stay in the nest for an extended period after hatching. Opposite of precocial.

Artificial Breeding Structures- any man-made structure designed to serve as a nesting receptacle for birds, such as bird houses, nest boxes, nest tunnels, etc.

Barred- term referring to a pattern of colouration in which the plumage has alternating dark and light stripes, such as the barred upperparts of the Northern Flicker.

Bill- or beak, is the bony modification of the bird’s skull, used for picking up food and nesting material, and for preening its feathers. The bill therefore acts as both lips and teeth, neither of which are found in birds. It also acts as a "hand", as many objects are picked up with the bill.
Altricial- referred to as nestlings, altricial birds are either naked or have very sparse down at hatching. Usually have their eyes closed at hatching, are fed by their parents for some period of time, and may stay in the nest for an extended period after hatching. Opposite of precocial.

Artificial Breeding Structures- any man-made structure designed to serve as a nesting receptacle for birds, such as bird houses, nest boxes, nest tunnels, etc.

Barred- term referring to a pattern of colouration in which the plumage has alternating dark and light stripes, such as the barred upperparts of the Northern Flicker.

Bill- or beak, is the bony modification of the bird’s skull, used for picking up food and nesting material, and for preening its feathers. The bill therefore acts as both lips and teeth, neither of which are found in birds. It also acts as a "hand", as many objects are picked up with the bill.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Breeding Plumage- term usually referring to the colourful plumage which the males of many species acquire for the breeding season, usually for the purposes of attracting a female mate. In a few species, it is the females which may be more colourful during the breeding season.

Breeding Success- occurs when one or more young from a clutch of eggs survives to fledging.

Brood - a collective term referring to the young hatched from a single clutch of eggs.

Class- taxonomic category between phyla and orders. A class contains one or more orders, and belongs to a particular phylum. (e.g. Phylum Vertebrata, Class Aves, Order Passeriformes)

Colony- refers to a group of birds nesting together in close association, such as a pelican or gull colony.

Colour Phase- certain species may have two or more variations in their plumage, presumably under genetic control. For example, Snow Geese may exist in either Read More
Breeding Plumage- term usually referring to the colourful plumage which the males of many species acquire for the breeding season, usually for the purposes of attracting a female mate. In a few species, it is the females which may be more colourful during the breeding season.

Breeding Success- occurs when one or more young from a clutch of eggs survives to fledging.

Brood - a collective term referring to the young hatched from a single clutch of eggs.

Class- taxonomic category between phyla and orders. A class contains one or more orders, and belongs to a particular phylum. (e.g. Phylum Vertebrata, Class Aves, Order Passeriformes)

Colony- refers to a group of birds nesting together in close association, such as a pelican or gull colony.

Colour Phase- certain species may have two or more variations in their plumage, presumably under genetic control. For example, Snow Geese may exist in either the white or blue colour phases.

Courtship Dancing- usually elaborate displays, most often performed by the males of certain species in an attempt to attract a female mate.

Covert (s) -term given to body feathers which overlie the bases of the flight feathers on the wings and tail. Also applies to the feathers covering the bird’s ear region.

Crest- a tuft of elongated feathers on the head of some species, such as the Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, and Blue Jay. The feathers are held erect by the bird most of the time or are capable of being erected.

Crown- the hind region of the upper part of the head.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Downy Plumage- refers to the plumage of a chick upon hatching. May be thick and soft as in ducklings, or very sparse or absent as in the nestlings of many passerine species. Downy plumage is followed by the development of feathers.

Exotic- refers to non-native, or introduced species

Eye Combs- usually brightly coloured regions situated above the eyes of certain species. They have the appearance of a colourful eyebrow, and function in sexual displays and recognition.

Family- a taxonomic group comprised of one or more genera. The names of bird families all have the ending -idae.

Fledge- young birds are said to have "fledged" when they have completely acquired their first true feathers and have left the nest. They may be referred to as "fledglings" from the time they leave the nest until they are completely independent of all parental care.
Downy Plumage- refers to the plumage of a chick upon hatching. May be thick and soft as in ducklings, or very sparse or absent as in the nestlings of many passerine species. Downy plumage is followed by the development of feathers.

Exotic- refers to non-native, or introduced species

Eye Combs- usually brightly coloured regions situated above the eyes of certain species. They have the appearance of a colourful eyebrow, and function in sexual displays and recognition.

Family- a taxonomic group comprised of one or more genera. The names of bird families all have the ending -idae.

Fledge- young birds are said to have "fledged" when they have completely acquired their first true feathers and have left the nest. They may be referred to as "fledglings" from the time they leave the nest until they are completely independent of all parental care.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Genus- (plural genera). A taxonomic group including one or more species. Families are divided into genera.

Gular Sac- a skin pouch of the throat found in some species, and most obvious in the pelicans. Nesting pelicans use it for panting, as a means of cooling or lowering body temperature, as well as to hold partially digested fish while the young feed from the pouch. Less conspicuous gular sacs are found in cormorants, owls, pheasants, pigeons and some other groups of birds.

Lek- traditional display grounds on which males of certain promiscuous species, such as the Sharp-tailed Grouse, perform courtship displays to attract females. Displaying males defend small territories on the lek, with the more dominant males usually dancing towards the center of the court. Females visit the lek, and select a male for copulation.

Length- the distance from the tip of the bill to the tip of the longest tail feather.

Lobate- also referred to a lobed, this Read More
Genus- (plural genera). A taxonomic group including one or more species. Families are divided into genera.

Gular Sac- a skin pouch of the throat found in some species, and most obvious in the pelicans. Nesting pelicans use it for panting, as a means of cooling or lowering body temperature, as well as to hold partially digested fish while the young feed from the pouch. Less conspicuous gular sacs are found in cormorants, owls, pheasants, pigeons and some other groups of birds.

Lek- traditional display grounds on which males of certain promiscuous species, such as the Sharp-tailed Grouse, perform courtship displays to attract females. Displaying males defend small territories on the lek, with the more dominant males usually dancing towards the center of the court. Females visit the lek, and select a male for copulation.

Length- the distance from the tip of the bill to the tip of the longest tail feather.

Lobate- also referred to a lobed, this condition refers to feet which are specially adapted for swimming, with a series of lateral lobes on the toes. Most obvious in the grebes.

Lore- region of the bird’s head between the eye and the base of the upper part of the bill.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Malar Region- or cheek, is the region on the side of the head from the base of the lower bill to the angle of the jaw.

Mustache- usually a colourful region running back from the base of the bill and below the eye, as seen in the Northern Flicker.

Order- a taxonomic group above the level of family but below that of class. Orders are composed of one or more families.

Ornithology- the science of birds.

Precocial- referred to as chicks, precocial birds have their eyes open at hatching, are covered with down, and leave the nest almost immediately after hatching to find food for themselves. Opposite of altricial.

Primaries- are the flight feathers of the wings which are attached to the manus, or the "hand" part of the wing. The number of primary feathers varies from 9 to 11, and are numbered from the innermost primary to the outermost.

Promiscuous- about 6 % of all Read More

Malar Region- or cheek, is the region on the side of the head from the base of the lower bill to the angle of the jaw.

Mustache- usually a colourful region running back from the base of the bill and below the eye, as seen in the Northern Flicker.

Order- a taxonomic group above the level of family but below that of class. Orders are composed of one or more families.

Ornithology- the science of birds.

Precocial- referred to as chicks, precocial birds have their eyes open at hatching, are covered with down, and leave the nest almost immediately after hatching to find food for themselves. Opposite of altricial.

Primaries- are the flight feathers of the wings which are attached to the manus, or the "hand" part of the wing. The number of primary feathers varies from 9 to 11, and are numbered from the innermost primary to the outermost.

Promiscuous- about 6 % of all bird species, such as most species of grouse, do not form pair bonds during the mating season. Rather they are said to be promiscuous, having indiscriminate, casual sexual relationships of brief duration. Most often involves the male mating with more than one female


© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Secondaries- are the flight feathers of the wing arising from the ulna, or "forearm" region of the wing. Secondary feathers are nearer the bird’s body than the primary feathers, and are numbered from the outermost feather to the innermost.

Siblicide- type of behaviour in which a young bird kills its sibling in the nest. The victim is most often the younger, smaller sibling of a clutch, and parents often do nothing to prevent its death. This behaviour is common in some species of raptors, for example.

Species- a kind of organism. It is usually defined in ornithology as an interbreeding group of birds that is reproductively isolated from other such groups.

Speculum- term given to the patch of brightly coloured or metallic secondary feathers of the wings, found in most surface-feeding, or dabbling ducks.

Wing Bars- most common in some passerine species, they are the lighter coloured tips of the upper wing coverts which appear as Read More
Secondaries- are the flight feathers of the wing arising from the ulna, or "forearm" region of the wing. Secondary feathers are nearer the bird’s body than the primary feathers, and are numbered from the outermost feather to the innermost.

Siblicide- type of behaviour in which a young bird kills its sibling in the nest. The victim is most often the younger, smaller sibling of a clutch, and parents often do nothing to prevent its death. This behaviour is common in some species of raptors, for example.

Species- a kind of organism. It is usually defined in ornithology as an interbreeding group of birds that is reproductively isolated from other such groups.

Speculum- term given to the patch of brightly coloured or metallic secondary feathers of the wings, found in most surface-feeding, or dabbling ducks.

Wing Bars- most common in some passerine species, they are the lighter coloured tips of the upper wing coverts which appear as narrow bars in the folded wings.

Wingspread- the distance from tip to tip of the longest primary feathers of the outstretched wings.

Wrist- region of the forewing which points forward; also known as the bend of the wing.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Become familiar with the basic anatomy of birds;
  • Develop scientific vocabulary.

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