I don’t like to speak in absolutes about many things, but I think it’s safe to say everyone misses something from the time before this pandemic we’re still moving through. A lot of things, most likely. I woke up this morning and was reminded of one of those things that I miss.
As I got my day started, I saw that my brother sent me a message sometime after I turned my phone off last night, and when I opened it, I found a video that someone had posted to social media. The video was of a parrot, apparently a younger juvenile because its feathers were still coming in. There was music playing in the background, and the parrot was “dancing” as I understand they love to do. I don’t know any parrots personally, but they seem to be creatures with outsized personalities.
Anyway, despite the early development of this bird’s feathers, I could see the alula on its left wing as it moved around.
Bird nerd alert: I like to talk about things like alulae.
When a bird is standing with its wings tucked, the part of the wing that is visible is–I’m using equivalent terms here–its fingers. That rounded part of the wing closest to the head is what we would call our wrists.
Birds, we know, don’t actually have fingers or wrists, but we do, so they’re convenient for a demonstration.Tuck your elbow close to your body, hold your wrist up by your shoulders, and point your fingers back toward your arms as best as you can. There you go–you’re sitting like a bird.
Anyway, a bird has two or three feathers that grow from that wrist area. Unlike most of the feathers on their wings, these are fully controllable and aid in maneuvering, oftentimes during landing. They act sort of like slats do on an airplane, providing a sort of fine tuning when needed. Those feathers are called the alula (plural alulae–they’re Latin words).
To review, though: birds don’t have fingers, wrists, or slats. I’m just trying to keep things straight here.
It won’t be too long, I hope, before I’m able to talk to people about birds again. I’m a volunteer with an organization here in the Huntsville, Alabama area that does conservation and stewardship education using birds of prey. During normal times we do presentations at libraries, schools, and other community events. Those haven’t happened in a while, but things look promising for the summer. I’m hopeful, but we’ll see!
If you’re curious, we’re at http://riseraptor.org. Check us out!