Tail Feathers of North American Birds

Bald Eagle with Tail spread out

I’m thankful for an email from a Boy Scouts of America leader. He suggested placing links to this information about Tail Feathers in the Birdwatching section. [Which are now there, plus on two other pages.] It is part of a badge they are working on.

These feathers are interesting and would love to see each of these species in the field. Isn’t it amazing how the Creator of these Avian Wonders goes into such details in tail feather design. Along with the rest of the feathers attached to the birds. :)

60 Tail Feathers of North American Birds - AlansFactoryOutlet.com - Infographic
By AlansFactoryOutlet.com

“Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.” (Genesis 6:20 NKJV) [In to the Ark]

“Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.
(Genesis 8:17 NKJV) [Out of the Ark]

Here are most of the birds that these feathers would be attached to:

Wordless Birds

Bird of the Moment: Satin and Leaden Flycatchers

Satin Flycatcher (Myiagra cyanoleuca) Male ©Ian Montgomery

Bird of the Moment: Satin and Leaden Flycatchers by Ian Montgomery

One day last October, I was doing the dishes in the upstairs kitchen and checking, as one does, bird activity in the two bird baths below when this unusual one arrived. I keep my binoculars on the kitchen window sill for moments like this and I was astonished to see that it was a male Satin Flycatcher, very rare in North Queensland.

Happily it stayed around long enough for me to grab the camera and get a few photo both at the bird bath and, second photo, in a nearby shrub before it flew away. Satin Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to distinguish from their close relatives Leaden Flycatchers but in the right light and at the right angle – i.e. from above – the overall satiny blue sheen is unmistakable.

Leaden Flycatcher last featured as bird of the week/moment in 2003 with this one photo below, so now is a good opportunity to review it and the question of distinguishing the two species. Graeme Chapman wrote an article – ‘Mixed Up Myiagras’ – on identifying Monarch Flycatchers in the June 2003 issue of Wingspan, the Birds Australia magazine and I’m going to quote extensively from that.

The key field mark for distinguishing Leaden and Satin Flycatchers is the shape of the demarcation between the dark throat patch and the white breast and belly. In the male Leaden Flycatcher (above) the line curves upwards where the dark throat patch meets the wing producing a right angle or slightly acute angle in the white part. In the Satin Flycatcher, see the next two photos, the demarcation curves downward at the sides where it disappears below the wing and there is no sharp angle, rather a curve through a decidedly obtuse angle.

This is perhaps easier to see in the photo below, where the bird is obligingly lifting its wing as it preens.

To add to the problem, male Leaden Flycatchers have a bluish sheen on the throat patch and to a lesser extent on the head. Given the refractive, iridescent nature of such colours in feathers (optical structure rather than pigment) the actual colour produced depends on light conditions and angle. The Leaden Flycatcher in the photo below looks quite bluish (thought the back and wings are greyer) and could easily be mistaken for a Satin. Here the angle of the white area comes to the rescue and this bird is definitely a Leaden.

I haven’t mentioned females or juveniles yet: they’re even harder than the males. Females and juveniles of both species have reddish buff breasts but these are very variable in intensity and lack the clear demarcation with the white breast that comes to the aid of identifying males. In general, female Satins are darker overall than Leadens and have a bluish sheen on the head. But be warned, the heads of female Leadens can be slightly bluish too as in the photo below. I regret that I haven’t got a photo of a female Satin.

If all else fails, habitat, location and time of year are important. Satin Flycatchers breed in moist forests; in Tasmania (from which Leadens are absent) and Victoria this includes both inland and coastal forests but in New South Wales the Satin occurs only in damp wooded gullies in the high country along the Great Dividing Range. Given the problems of identification, there is uncertainty whether they breed in Southeast Queensland and Graeme Chapman couldn’t confirm breeding there.

John Young reported finding breeding pairs in Northern Queensland in highland rainforest (two pairs near Paluma, December 1984, and one pair at Wallaman Falls, November 1991) but it isn’t known whether this is part of its normal breeding range or even the same race as he reported the birds as being larger and darker than southern ones and the eggs being 20% larger.

Leaden Flycatchers occur in a wide variety of wooded habitats and may be found breeding in the same areas as Satin Flycatchers.

Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) Female in nest by Ian

Timing is important as the Satin Flycatcher is a migrant and winters mainly in New Guinea. The late Andrée Griffin lived in Paluma, about 40km from my place as the flycatcher flies, for many years and kept careful records of birds. She reported to Graeme Chapman that Satin Flycatchers arrived there each year on their way south at the beginning of October and were seen for about a fortnight. That date coincides well with my record of 12 October and Len Ezzy, a local birder, recorded one a week later at the Townsville Town Common. In 2016, I thought I saw a female Satin Flycatcher having a bathe in my pool on 22 September, but she didn’t hang around while I got the camera.

Flooded Creek by Ian – Townsville, Australia

For those of you who have heard the news about flooding in Townsville in general and Bluewater in particular on Wednesday, I’m happy to report that my house is high up enough above the creek to have been spared so far, unlike some unfortunate residents farther down the creek. Upper Bluewater has had over 900mm of rain in the last three days and it is hard to imagine it ever exceeding that. This is what Bluewater Creek looked like from just outside my house shortly after the flood peaked on Wednesday. The creek is normally invisible from here in a gorge about 200 metres away where the distant trees are.

Greetings – Ian

Ian’s Birds of the Moment come in quite unannounced. Never know when to expect something from “down under.” Yet, everytime, Ian has a very interesting bird/birds to introduce us to. Thank you, Ian for stopping by with another set of beautiful avian wonders.

The verses below remind us that the Lord provides for his critters and birds. In this case, the “hills” might have been a bit over filled.

“By them [streams] the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.” (Psalms 104:12-13 NKJV)

Ian’s Birds of the Week [Month, Moment]

Hope for Hard Times

Birds of the Bible – Shield

American Coot (Fulica americana) by Lee at Lk Morton

American Coot (Fulica americana) by Lee at Lk Morton

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4 KJV)

While working on the Coot article, the shield was mentioned. “Coots have prominent frontal shields or other decoration on the forehead…”

When the Lord created the Coots and many of the birds in the Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots family, He gave them a frontal shield. Some Jacanas (Jacanidae – Jacanasalso have shields.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this definition: “a platelike prolongation of the base of the upper mandible over the forehead that is a characteristic feature of the coots and gallinules.”  A few coots and gallinules have a frontal shield, which is a fleshy rearward extension of the upper bill. The most complex frontal shield is found in the Horned Coot.

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As you can see by the different photos, each species has a different shield, some similar, but others quite different.

Wikipedia says, “A shield is a type of personal armor, meant to intercept attacks, either by stopping projectiles such as arrows or redirecting a hit from a sword, mace, battle axe or similar weapon to the side of the shield-bearer.

Shields vary greatly in size, ranging from large panels that protect the user’s entire body to small models (such as the buckler) that were intended for hand-to-hand-combat use. Shields also vary a great deal in thickness; whereas some shields were made of relatively deep, absorbent, wooden planking to protect soldiers from the impact of spears and crossbow bolts, others were thinner and lighter and designed mainly for deflecting blade strikes.

Often shields were decorated with a painted pattern or an animal representation and these designs developed into systematized heraldic devices during high-medieval times for purposes of battlefield identification. ”

Ceremonial shield with mosaic decoration- Aztec or Mixtec-AD 1400-1521-In the British Museum ©WikiC

Ceremonial shield with mosaic decoration- Aztec or Mixtec-AD 1400-1521-In the British Museum ©WikiC

For our birds, I would think the decorated shields for identification seems the most logical. Since the Lord enjoys so much variety, we see it again displayed in these frontal shields.

At least 54 verses (depending on version) mention the word “shield” in the Bible. Psalm 91:4 above is providing refuge under feathers and wings and is protecting us with a shield of truth and faithfulness. Let’s look at some of the verses and just let His word encourage and challenge us to serve Him more.

The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3 KJV)

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. (Psalms 3:3 NASB)

Horned Coot (Fulica cornuta) ©©Flickr Gunnar Engblom

Horned Coot (Fulica cornuta) ©©Flickr Gunnar Engblom

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. (Psalms 18:35 KJV)

Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. (Psalms 33:20 KJV)

Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) Breeding ©WikiC

Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) Breeding ©WikiC

For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. (Psalms 84:11 KJV)

Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield. (Psalms 115:11 KJV)

Red-fronted Coot (Fulica rufifrons) ©WikiC

Red-fronted Coot (Fulica rufifrons) ©WikiC

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Ephesians 6:16 KJV)

Are others able to identify us by our shield?


Wordless Birds



Birds of the Bible

Rallidae – Rails, Crakes & Coots Family

Jacanidae – Jacanas Family

Birdwatching Term – Frontal Shield


Birdwatching Tips – Herons, Egrets, Bitterns

Little Blue Heron at Lake Hollingsworth

Little Blue Heron at Lake Hollingsworth

Lev 11:19  And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

Peterson’s Field Guide Videos have great information about how to identify birds in the Heron, Egrets and Bittern Family. This is a very good video.


See the other video in this series:

Peterson Field Guide-Videos


Ardeidae- Herons, Bitterns

Birds of the Bible – Herons

Wordless Birds


Start Birdwatching Today: What Kind of Bird is This?

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) by Daves BirdingPix

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) by Daves BirdingPix

What kind of birds is this? Are you kidding, Stephen, that is a wide open question? If you have been following this “Start Birdwatching Today” series you know that Stephen, our Assistant to the Pastor, asked me to do some new articles about birding for our church blog, The Fountain. He came up with the titles and I am writing the articles. This one can go so many directions and involves more effort than our previous blogs, for me and the readers. Now we are getting into the “heart” of birding or birdwatching.

I have been encouraging you to become aware of the birds around you and to take notes about them. This is where all birders begin to learn about the birds. When you go out birdwatching it is nice to go with someone who has been birding for awhile. They can tell you the bird’s name and something about it. Even those of us who have been doing it awhile don’t know every bird. Being by yourself or just seeing one out your window brings you to this question, “What kind of bird is this? So, what do you do?

Sandhill Cranes – Adult and Juvenile in yard 8/27/10

Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23 NKJV)

This is where Bird Guides come in handy, but here in America there are over 900 species. Now begins the process of elimination. When the Lord created the birds, He did not put name tags on them, but in a way, He did. You will discover that each family of birds differs from other families, yet within families, there are different colors, markings, and subtle differences. If your bird is small and you have seen our local Sandhill Cranes, you can eliminate that whole Crane family. Most have seen a sparrow at one time. Was your bird about that size? Now you can eliminate almost the front half of your Guide. In other words, size is very important as a clue.

Blue Jay at Bok Tower by Dan's Pix

Blue Jay II at Bok Tower by Dan’s Pix

What color was it? Another clue. Most guides don’t list the birds by color, but there are some that do (The Easy Bird Guide), also on the Internet, there are places to find the bird by color. WhatBird is a great example of this. If you go to the Attributes Page you will see what are the main things to ask about the bird. Notice the list of birds above the buttons, it starts with all 924 birds. As you make selections, the number decreases and you eventually end up with just a few choices to make your selection from.

Location – Where did you see it? Florida, Georgia, etc.

Shape – Chicken like, Duck, Gull, Hawk, Hummingbird, etc.

Size – Very small, small, medium, large, very large

ColorPrimary and Secondary colors

Habitat – Was it at the coast, mountains, desert, lake, etc.

Bill Shape – All purpose, cone, curved, dagger, etc.

Bill Length – Same as head, longer or shorter than head

Wing Shape – Broad, long, pointed, rounded, tapered, very long

Backyard Feeder – Frequently or rare

Others – Order, Family, Song pattern or call.

I think for now, that is enough. We will need to cover more in another article. I have put several photos on the page which you probably already know. Try using the What Bird tools and see if you can get to the right bird. Start with the Northern Cardinal. Put in Florida for Location (924 to 362), Shape=Perching-like (362 to 165), Color Primary=Red  (165 to 8), Bill Shape=Cone (8 to 4). You now only have 4 choices to look at. Try it. As you click on the name you will see lots of information about that bird.


What Bird Tools
How to ID Birds – All About Birds
How to Identify Birds – Audubon
Bird Identification Tips – About.Com Birding/Wild Birds
How-to Videos:
How to Identify Birds
Topography (Parts of the Bird)