Jan 15 2010
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)