In return for the service of its volunteers, Klamath Bird Observatory offers a Bander certification and a Trainer certification. Stephanie and I are soon to put our skills to the test through the written component of the Bander certification. To prepare, I am hiding away in coffee shops over the weekends to frantically cram information into my brain on the history of bird banding, technique of handling birds, how to read molt limits, what kinds of birds ornithologists study, the life cycle of birds, what birds like to eat, where birds live, why birds migrate…the list goes on and on. In the spirit of learning, I thought I’d share a study material I created on the taxonomy of songbirds.
Taxonomy is the science of categorizing organisms. The categories follow a ladder system, cascading from Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and sometimes Subspecies. Birds are listed under the Order Aves, similarly the word in Spanish for bird is “Aves.” Under this umbrella, birds are then split into different categories known as “Orders.” For our purposes at KBO, we are primarily looking at songbirds, under the Order for Passeriformes. For our exam, we must know the different families of songbirds, which are divided based on the specific characteristics such as the amount of flight feathers each species has.
The flight feathers are broken into three groups: the primaries, the secondaries, and the rectrices. The primary and secondary feathers are the flight feathers of the wings while the rectrices are the tail feathers. The wing flight feathers closest to the body are the secondaries, with the three closest feathers (secondaries 6-9) being called tertials. Most Passeriformes will have 9 secondaries. At the bird’s carpal joint, located at the bend of the wing, a new set of flight feathers emerge: the primaries. Passeriformes may have anywhere between 9-13 primaries. The attached table (click the link to Songbird Familes) is my attempt to memorize which family has how many of each type of feather. I hope you find this a useful tool too, for when you’re wanting to geek out to some bird biology.