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How waterfowl hide their wings

Mallard Drawings With Labels
DISAPPEARING ACT: In normal swimming posture, a drake Mallard (above) hides its wings under scapulars and flanks. Only the tertials and primaries are visible. The illustration below depicts the same bird and how its wing would appear if it were visible. Art by David Sibley

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The avian wing is a marvel of engineering: lightweight but incredibly strong, stiff yet flexible, forming an airfoil that is instantly adjustable to any conditions, and when not in use folding into a thin panel and tucking neatly out of the way along the side of the bird’s body. Understanding how the wing works and where the different feather groups go as the wing spreads and folds is an important bit of fundamental bird-ID knowledge. In this column, I’ll explain how the wing fits into the body feathers at rest.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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