Using the "Feather Placement" Observation Field for Learning

Since a good number of observations in this project have been tagged using the "Feather Placement" observation field, it can now be used to aid the process of learning the different feather placements.

I've linked each of the field values below, so if you have been having trouble with knowing what tail feathers/primaries/coverts generally look like, check out the links below. If anyone can think of another way that the "Feather Placement" observation field can be used, let me know--at the moment, it basically allows the systematic identification of placements in a way that is both standardized and searchable. Note that this is not a perfect system, and there is some overlap and simplification present in the values I chose to use.

Any of the main flight feathers of the outer wing, generally rigid, asymmetrical, and pointed. Most birds have ten, but the nine-primaried oscines have a significantly reduced P10 (outermost primary).

Any of the main flight feathers of the inner wing. Generally somewhat rigid, asymmetrically curved, and broad with a rounded tip.

Any of the flight feathers of the very inner wing, overlying the humerus. Only present on certain long-winged birds such as pelicans, not a very commonly seen type. HOWEVER, in practical usage "tertial" can refer to the trailing secondaries present on almost every species, which are the group of 1-3 secondaries closest to the body of the bird.

Any of the main flight feathers of the tail. Symmetry can vary based on the feather's position in the tail; central tail feathers are almost always completely symmetrical while the outer tail feathers show a slight s-shaped curve through the shaft.

A set of 3-5 feathers located on the "thumb" of each wing. Similar to the wing coverts but they often have a triangular shape with a pointed tip.

Primary wing covert:
The wing coverts that lay on top of the primary wing feathers on the dorsal side of the wing. There is only one "row" of these feathers, and generally each of these coverts corresponds to a specific primary.

Secondary wing covert:
The wing coverts that lay on top of the secondary wing feathers on the dorsal side of the wing. There can be several distinct "rows" of these coverts on each wing. For the purposes of the observation field, this value refers to the greater secondary coverts (the longest ones) plus anything else that can be identified as a secondary wing covert.

Marginal wing covert:
The smallest wing coverts. These feathers cover the very top of the dorsal side of the wing and tend to be about as long as they are wide.

Under-wing covert:
Any of the feathers that cover the main flight feathers on the ventral (under) side of the wing. For the purposes of this observation field, no distinction is made between coverts adjacent to the primaries or secondaries. Generally very flat, broad, and quite soft and flexible.

A special form of underwing covert found in the "wing-pit." Characterized by a near-symmetrical shape.


Upper-tail covert:

Under-tail covert:


A term that encompasses any ornamental body feathers that can't be properly described by another value--not related to physical placement. Could refer to the ornamental feathers found on egrets or birds-of-paradise, for example.


Any of the body feathers that cover the chest and belly of a bird, excluding the under-tail coverts.


Any of the body feathers that cover the back of a bird, excluding the upper-tail coverts. Inclusive of the mantle and rump feathers.

The most general term for a feather that is not a flight feather. Use this value if you're not sure where your feather came from, but it's obviously not a flight feather (i.e. is fluffy and flexible).

Semiplume down:
Any body feather that has a central shaft but lacks pennaceous barbs (i.e. doesn't have a smooth surface). Can be found pretty much anywhere on the body, usually hidden under other body feathers.

Any feather that lacks a central shaft and lacks pennaceous barbs. (ID tip: sometimes these feathers can be identified to the order or family level by their color and texture, but a species ID is unlikely.)

Multiple types:
If more than one feather type is present and they can't be encompassed by a general term like "Body," use this value. Kill sites should almost always use this value.

I hope this is helpful, and happy feather finding!
Amanda @featherenthusiast

Posted on January 06, 2020 12:45 AM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast


This is very nice! I have a hard time with the feathers. A few who know the feathers pretty good have given some helpful feather guides.

Posted by walkingstick2 over 3 years ago (Flag)

Great idea and implementation! Thanks!

Posted by jim_carretta over 3 years ago (Flag)

Nice! I’ll make sure to dig into some old observations in the project to add in this field :)

Posted by karakaxa over 3 years ago (Flag)

This is nice :)

Posted by twan3253 over 3 years ago (Flag)

Bookmarked! Thank you!

Posted by andreacala almost 3 years ago (Flag)

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments