Resplendent remiges and rectrices – bird beauty from behind

The other day asMourning dove IMG_6565©Maria de Bruyn res I was photographing birds at my feeders, I was struck by the beauty of this bird’s feathers as they lay across its back. The muted colors are wonderful and the scalloped-edge pattern is marvelous. It made me take a look at other birds’ feathers as seen from behind and how they vary in position and shape. I hope you enjoy this short tour and have some fun identifying the birds shown – many are very easy for experienced birders but perhaps some are not for beginning birdwatchers. The answers will be added to the blog next week.

So, we are focusing here on flight feathers, namely the remiges and rectrices. The remiges – or wing feathers – help the bird get lift when flying and support the bird during flight. The rectrices – tail feathers – give the bird stability and provide control.

Red fox sparrow IMG_5745© Maria de Bruyn resHouse finch M de Bruyn resCardinal IMG_6227©Maria de Bruyn res

The outer “vane” (part of the feather above the shaft) is narrower than the inner vane, so the wing feathers are asymmetrical. The tail feathers, on the other hand, are symmetrical in shape and pattern. The “primary” wing feathers are narrower and can be rotated individually, while the secondary remiges are shorter and lie together, even when the bird is flying.

In some species, the wing feathers may reveal a spot of color on the bird’s back when they are not folded completely over one another.

Yellow-rumped warbler IMG_6461©Maria de BruynresHouse finch IMG_6255©Maria de Bruyn res

The feathers also serve other functions, such as keeping the bird warm and dry.

Ruby-throated hummingbird IMG_4221©Maria de BruynresMandarin duck IMG_1605©Maria de Bruyn resHoopoe IMG_4314©Maria de Bruyn res

In some species, the males develop especially resplendent rectrices in thRed-collared widowbird 390©Maria de Bruynreseir breeding plumage – a definite attempt to attract mates.

Interestingly, the total weight of a bird’s feathers is about 2-3 times more than the weight of its bones!

One final quiz question – which bird has the fewest overall feathers and which species has the most?

Next week: curious deer

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