Wing Feathers – Draw a Bird Day

It has been a while since I participated in Draw a Bird Day. I was happy to see some bird drawings in my blog reader this morning and decided to get inspired. I’ve been mostly sketching lately and none of the results have looked quite showable. But I did have a partially coloured drawing of some bird wings. And now, it’s fully coloured!

When I look at open and folded wings in bird photos, I often wonder – how do they fold and which feathers go where? John Muir Laws came to the rescue! The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds explains all this with beautiful illustrations. My two wing drawings are based on his illustrations of a passerine wing (dark grey with two white wing bars… I don’t know the species… some kind of flycatcher???). I did a good job of illustrating the layout of the different feather groups, but oops, I forgot to count the secondary feathers. Both wings should show 9, but my folded wing shows 8 and the open wing shows 12. Passerines have 9 secondary feathers and the last 3 are called tertials. Some non-passerine birds, like gulls, have more than 3 tertials.

In a recent sketch of a Scarlet Tanager in flight, I did count the primary and secondary feathers before drawing them. But it’s an oops for another reason. The way I drew the primary coverts and greater secondary coverts doesn’t make sense because, in a partially folded wing, the primary coverts slide under the greater secondary coverts. I misinterpreted the photo (Cape May Bird Observatory blog)! Oh well, I learned something.

Primaries and secondaries form two feather groups because the primaries attach to the “hand” bones, while the secondaries attach to the ulna (forearm). The alula feathers attach to the “thumb” bone. No flight feathers attach to the humerus (upper arm). Long-winged birds, like albatrosses, have longer humerus bones than other birds and have “humeral” feathers in this region. However, I haven’t found any information about where the humerals originate (the humerus? the humeral tract?).

Happy Draw a Bird Day!

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11 Comments

  1. What beautiful wings! (I’m not counting the numbers of feathers). They are so intricate and wonderfully constructed. (K)

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  2. Hi Myriam,
    Thank you for sharing. I should try coloring a wing, too, as I always have trouble visualizing what happens when the wing folds and expands. This is very helpful.
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

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  3. Reblogged this on ROLLING HARBOUR ABACO and commented:
    BIRD WING FEATHERS: A SIMPLE GUIDE TO THE MYSTERIES
    Thanks to the excellent ‘Myr’s Bytes’, say goodbye to ‘what’s the difference between primary & seconadry feathers’ misery…

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. This is the first post I have ever reblogged, I think! And much the most helpful illustration / explanation on the topic, too (those little B&W ones in bird books are never very memorable, are they…). So, thanks for this! RH

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    1. Thanks for the reblog RH. I’m honoured! Glad you found the drawing helpful. I agree that not all wing illustrations are as clear as others :-). I hope to get around to drawing some gull, duck and shorebird wing illustrations soon, as they fold their wings a bit differently.

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  5. Well-done! I may have mentioned a bird art class I took some years ago. We were lucky enough to have access to the Field Museum’s collection of birds and this is exactly the sort of study that we would do. I have plenty of “oops” on my score card, but it helps so much to know the underlying structure, doesn’t it?

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  6. Your birds are just great! And these drawings (and explanation) of feathers are over the top. I’m vacationing in Florida and seeing water birds I’m not familiar with. Great fun to add new birds to my life list.

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    1. Thanks very much for the awesome compliment, Marian! Glad to hear you hare having fun in Florida and seeing new birds. I’m so excited for you!!! I’m always happy to see The Wednesday Studio’s monthly birds. Your latest blue jay is spectacular with his intricately patterned feathers and different shades of blue. 🙂

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  7. So informative – and pretty!!

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    1. Thanks so much, Carol! Glad you enjoyed this little excursion into bird wing anatomy.

      I was so happy to see your merganser. I love her pose and you painted her feathers beautifully. 🙂

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  8. I knew that it’s difficult to draw birds, but I have never thought about how difficult it really is. Primary coverts, secondary feathers – I didn’t know anything about that. If I come to think, there are so little I really know about birds. Thank you for educating me, Myriam! 🙂

    Birds are truly magnificent creatures! 🙂 And your illustration of wing is beautiful! 🙂

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