Feb 05 2010
Having covered the nape, mantle and rump we’ve gotten to the end of the bird and can now talk about its tail.
Rectrices is a word for tail feathers that’s not often used. I find it hard to remember because it resembles another feather word, remiges, and because I tend to mispronounce both of them.
The good news is that information on the origin of these words makes it easier to figure out their meanings. Here’s how.
Rectrices (pronounced REK.tris.iz) are the strong tail feathers that direct the bird’s flight. Rectrix is the singular form. When you see them spelled side by side, it’s pretty obvious that rectrix and direct come from the same Latin word.
Remiges (pronounced REH.midg.iz) are the wing’s flight feathers. Remex, its singular form, comes from the Latin word for oar and used to mean “rower.” Watch a crow fly and you’ll see his wings rowing through the sky.
So the remiges are for rowing and the rectrices are for directing.
Wings row. Tail directs. Maybe now I’ll remember.
(photo of a great-crested flycatcher showing off his cinnamon rectrices, by Chuck Tague)