Raptor Vocab 101: Anatomy

05 January 2023

To improve your raptor identification skills, you must master the basics. This blog is the start of a series where we walk you through raptor vocabulary so you can better describe and understand what you are looking at when identifying a raptor.

Now let's talk raptor anatomy! Note that this list below is not an exhaustive list of all raptor anatomy. Rather, it focuses on the terms you will most commonly need to know when identifying an individual.

Raptor Topography: Topside and Underside View

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PC Jerry Liguori

Axillaries: The wing pits or “armpit” of the birds

Belly: Mid-section of the raptor’s body

Carpal: Underwing area at the wrist where all the primaries meet

Chest/Breast: Upper area of the raptor's body between the throat and belly

Crop: a pouch along the esophagus where food is initially placed before it moves into the stomach

Greater Underwing Coverts: Wing lining or feathers covering the base of the remiges (see below)

Lesser Underwing Coverts: Feathers covering the underwing

Patagium: Area between the wrist and the body along the wing's leading (top) edge

Primaries: Ten outer remiges of the wing; outer primaries with notches make up the “fingers” of a hawk

Rectrices: Tail feathers, raptors typically have 12

Remiges (Remex is singular): Flight feathers of the wing: primaries, secondaries, and tertials

Rump: Feathers covering the bases of the uppertail coverts (see below)

Scapulars: Feathers along the sides of the back

Secondaries: Flight feathers from the wrist to the body, making up the base of the wing

Tertials: The innermost remiges. Most raptors have two or three

Undertail Coverts: Feathers covering the underside of the base of the tail

Uppertail Coverts: Feathers covering the topside of the base of the tail

Upperwing Coverts: Feathers that cover the upperwing

Wrist: Joint on the wing's leading (top) edge where the secondaries and primaries meet

Anatomy of the Head

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PC Kyler Noe

Cap/Crown: Top of the head

Cere: The smooth, featherless skin just above the beak

Gape: The breadth of the bird's mouth opening from corner to corner

Malar Stripe: a dark patch or stripe of plumage on a raptor’s cheek usually seen in falcons

Mandible: The upper and lower jaw and the beak

Nape: The back of the neck

Nare: The nasal opening in the cere

Superciliary Line: Pale feathers above the eye, often called the “eyebrow”

Tomial Tooth: A protrusion on the upper bill of some birds—including falcons and kites. Sometimes referred to as “the notch” in the bill

Want to take your learning further? Our free Raptor ID App (available for Apple and Android) showcases beautiful Jerry Liguori photographs (one of which is featured in this blog). You will also find a terminology list, narrated videos of raptors in flight, and in-depth identification information on individual species. Our In-hand Guide to Diurnal Raptors is also an excellent resource for growing your anatomy vocabulary, with its extensive glossary. Lastly, the Raptor ID group on Facebook is a wealth of information that allows you to ask questions to other raptor experts and enthusiasts. You can also find resources compiled by the group admins in the files tab.

Happy hawkwatching!


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This blog was written by Sammy Riccio, HWI's Donor Engagement Coordinator.
You can learn more about Sammy here.