Jan 15 2010

Anatomy: Scapulars

Published by at 6:30 am under Bird Anatomy

American goldfinch with scapulars circled (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)Last week I read a post on PABIRDS about a spotted towhee in Palmyra, New Jersey in which Barb Heibsch mentioned its scapulars.  That got me thinking.  What are scapulars?

Scapula is the Latin word for shoulder.  In humans it refers to our shoulder blade.

On birds, the scapulars are body feathers that cover the top of the wing when the bird is at rest.  They look like shoulders, as shown circled in pink on this American goldfinch.

Scapular feathers are often unremarkable because they're the same color as the bird's back and wings but they're easy to see on goldfinches because their backs are yellow and their wings are black.

As the breeding season approaches male goldfinches will molt from dull to bright yellow.  Watch their scapulars for signs of spring.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman, altered to illustrate the scapulars)

One response so far

One Response to “Anatomy: Scapulars”

  1. Marjorie Van Tasselon 15 Jan 2010 at 9:09 pm

    As always you are not only interesting but educational as well. Thanks for the anatomy lessons on birds, Kate.
    I first learned about the scapulars while learning to identify the differerent hawks. Prevalent on the Red-tails is white mottling that forms a V on their scapulars which often when trying to id a bird that is perched with its back to you is difficult. Much easier when you can see the color of the breast, face, and beak. But that is one defining mark of red-tails and when viewing them while on a major highway like 79 or 28 it is certainly a big help if you know something about their scapulars as well as shoulder (as in red-shoulders), breast (or belly-band also as in red-tail), etc.

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