Nov 20 2009

Anatomy: Culmen

Published by at 7:04 am under Bird Anatomy

Culmen shown on European starling (photo by Chuck Tague)Winter is lousy for field work but it's a good time to curl up with a book and learn something, so in that spirit I've decided to (finally!) learn more about bird anatomy. 

Yes, I've watched birds for decades but that doesn't mean I know the scientific names for the parts of a bird.  During research on various blogs I've encountered many technical names, but what do they mean? 

Maybe the names stump you, too.  Why not make this a group project?  So here's the first in a weekly series on bird anatomy. 

What is a culmen?  It sounds vaguely like... ummmm.... "culminate," a related word. 

Answer:  It's "the dorsal ridge of the bird's bill."  For us laypeople, it's the top of the beak from the head to the tip, as shown by the green line. 

I encountered "culmen" when I looked for the length of the pileated woodpecker's beak.  The answer was "the male's culmen is 43-56 mm" so I had to look up two things:  the meaning of culmen and the conversion from millimeters to inches.

The shape of the culmen is a useful field mark for identifying birds.  Some bills (culmen) curve up as on American avocets, some are straight, and some curve down as on the long-billed curlew.

So now you know.

(photo by Chuck Tague with graphics added by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Anatomy: Culmen”

  1. Dianeon 20 Nov 2009 at 8:23 am

    This is a wonderful idea. Thanks so much.

  2. Karenon 20 Nov 2009 at 10:11 am

    Very helpful. I’ve long intended to do something similar but never managed. Thank you for taking this on!

  3. Carlon 21 Nov 2009 at 9:04 pm

    OK, Culmen. That’s good. And 24 mm to an inch So that’s about 2 inches of beak on a startling, beautiful bird.

  4. Christine Albinoon 04 Apr 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I have found a flock of black white red birds living off the catfood in a couple empty lots where feral cats reside with the birds cannot identify them. They are too big to be woodpeckers. I am in CT. Help

  5. Kate St. Johnon 04 Apr 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Christine Albino, does the bird look like a big duck? Muscovy ducks can be black, white, red. Click here to see; look at the photo at the right:

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