Odd Plumages

Abnormal feather growth

On several occasions, the Rouge River Bird Observatory has banded a bird that had an unusual tail.

All the tail feathers were fully grown in except for the three on the right.

The first was a young House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) banded on 1 Oct 2003. The tips of 5 tail feathers (rectrices, or “rects”) had unusual, spatulate tips which extended about 5 mm past the “normal” ends of the feathers.

Close-up that shows that the feathers in question seem to come to a “natural” tip, then flare out again to form the spatulate extension.

The extensions did not appear to be formed by the wearing away of some of the feather barbs. This was the first time RRBO had ever seen a bird with a tail like this.

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On 25 Aug 2008, a young Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) was captured that had a similar tail. This bird only had the odd paddle-like extension on the central tail feather. We recaptured this bird several times that season, and this feather was present each time.

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White-throated Sparrow tail.

On 5 October 2008, we banded a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). One central tail feather was around 10 mm longer than the other feathers. All the rects were fully grown in, so it wasn’t a case of the other feathers having not reached their full length.

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Cedar Waxwing tail.

Finally, there was the recent capture of a similar case. This adult Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) also had two extra-long central tail feathers. As with the White-throated Sparrow above, all the feathers were fully grown. It was banded on 8 November 2011.

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