Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Wing basics by David Sibley

Secondary feathers stack up on primary feathers on the folded wings of all birds, including Barn Swallow (top), American Goldfinch (center), and House Wren (bottom). The lengths of the flight feathers differ dramatically from species to species, but the structure of each wing is the same. Artwork by David Allen Sibley.
Secondary feathers stack up on primary feathers on the folded wings of all birds, including Barn Swallow (top), American Goldfinch (center), and House Wren (bottom). The lengths of the flight feathers differ dramatically from species to species, but the structure of each wing is the same. Artwork by David Allen Sibley.

The wing is one of the most remark­able parts of a bird. When extended in flight, it serves as a lightweight and efficient airfoil. But when birds are at rest, they fold their wings and hold them tight against the sides of their bodies. The two positions look entirely different. Learning just a few key points will help you understand and reconcile the varying shapes and patterns.

The wings of all birds share the same basic structure, consisting of flight feathers and wing coverts.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a BirdWatching member to access our first-rate articles and columns on bird ID and photography as well as quarterly webinars hosted by experts in the field.
Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free
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.

David Sibley on social media