Thankfully I already knew about “crests” so obvious on the head of northern cardinals. However, when I delved into reading descriptions of birds I was newly identifying, with the help of bird guidebooks, I discovered I was soon to learn a whole new vocabulary. It may not just be about the bird’s head; look closely and determine if there is an eyebrow stripe or supercilium. Now I know: a supercilium is a stripe that runs from the base of bird’s beak above its eye and finishing near the back of the head. And when in contrast with feathers next to it then it is called an eyebrow stripe, such as with the vireo below showing an eyebrow stripe!
Is it a crown, cap or nape on that bird? Well, if the colored feathers are only on the back of the bird’s neck it is nape, top of head substantially to the back is a crown or less substantially only a cap. Pictured below, Gila wood pecker on left is with small cap and ladder-backed woodpecker on right is with an extensive red crown.
Thanks to National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds of Western North America I am including a picture from the guide showing the red nape of male “yellow-shafted” northern flicker below.
Also notice when the colored strip is below the eye it is a whisker, as shown in the picture above! You noticed they are both males so how can they have different colored whiskers? Good observation! Ah, the red whiskered male is a “red-shafted” northern flicker. Someday I hope to be that observant to notice these details while viewing a bird through my binoculars as it makes a big difference when identifying the birds!
One more moment while observing a bird’s head, notice the bristles around some bird’s eyes or mouth, such as with this female vermilion flycatcher:
They are called rictal bristles and apparently scientists still are unclear as to their purpose. But the operculum, flap of cartilage, covering the nares (nostrils) on some bird’s beaks is important for diving birds. What about the colorful forehead shield we see on a common moorhen? Is there a specific purpose? I could go on and on … let’s not forget the culmen, the upper ridge of a bird’s bill which is measured during bird banding. (Glad to know that word if I ever do participate in a bird-banding.)
So as you can see I have only begun to learn the vocabulary related to the bird’s head! So much to learn; all keeps my brain engaged – another positive effect of birding!