Jul 23 2010

Anatomy: Under the head feathers

Published by at 7:42 am under Bird Anatomy


I was going to talk about head feathers today but some of them are named for the body part they cover.  What are those feathers covering?  I asked two vultures to help me out.

Vultures don’t have head feathers because of their lifestyle:  they eat carrion and stick their heads into rotting carcasses.  Head feathers would get very dirty and are hard to clean so vultures just don’t have them. 

Pictured here are a turkey vulture at left and a black vulture on the right.  Notice that you can see their ears!  (red arrows)  Birds’ ears are below their eyes on the edge of their cheeks.   On the turkey vulture you can see that the end of his smile comes pretty close to his ear.

These birds also give us a good view of their nares (yellow arrows) whose size is quite different between the two species.  Turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell, black vultures don’t.  The bird that relies on its sense of smell has large nares.

And finally, who can avoid noticing those wrinkles?  I’m glad most birds cover them.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Anatomy: Under the head feathers”

  1. Steve Tironeon 23 Jul 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Wrinkles. There sure a lot of them, aren’t there. Those wrinkles don’t look like they would serve well for carrion eaters, either, as a place where decaying stuff would get trapped. Seems like a smooth head would serve them better for easier cleaning. I wonder why all the wrinkles…

  2. Kate St. Johnon 23 Jul 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Good point. The turkey vulture’s wrinkles look like the accordion of skin needed to bend or turn his head. Maybe a little extra.
    When they bathe they sometimes dip their heads in the water & let the water roll down their backs.

  3. faith cornellon 24 Jul 2010 at 8:45 am

    Well it is a good thing it does it’s job efficiently because it will never be a winner in a beauty contest of birds. Useful but ugly!!

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