What Is a Bird's Crown?
The crown is the top or highest part of a bird's head, the peak of the head. The term generally refers to just the center of the head, not a complete hood, which would extend to the upper back and over the bird's face, or a broad cap, which encompasses the entire top of the head above the eyes and extending to the nape.
(rhymes with town, down, brown, and clown)
About the Crown
The crown is the top of a bird's head, a patch extending roughly from the point above the eyes back to just where the rear of the head begins to slope down the back of the bird's neck. In the strictest sense, the crown is only the very top and center of the head and does not extend extensively down the sides of a bird's face. More casual definitions, however, allow the term crown to be used for the entire broader top of a bird's head, though the sides of the face and the back of the neck are generally not included in the crown.
What a Crown Is Not
In some bird species, the crown is very distinct and easy to note. On other birds, however, either a lack of bold markings or an overabundance of head patterning can make the crown more difficult to distinguish. To better understand a bird's crown, it is helpful to know other parts of a bird's head.
While similar, the crown is not the:
- Nape: This is the area on the back of the head, at the point where the neck truly begins to slope downward. The nape is directly behind the bird's crown.
- Hindneck: On birds with longer necks, such as pelicans, herons, and storks, the hindneck is the entire back of the neck, and starts well below the crown and nape, extending all the way down to the bird's shoulders and upper back.
- Forehead: This is the area at the front of a bird's head, above the bill and in front of the eyes. In birds with a distinctive crown, the forehead is often a different color and looks separate from the crown.
- Lores: The lores are not on top of the head, but are the patch between the bird's eyes and the base of the bill on both sides of the face. This borders the bottom of the forehead.
- Auriculars: These ear-covering feathers are on the sides of a bird's face, behind and slightly below the eyes. This is well below the area that would be considered the crown but in many species is the same color as the top of the head.
- Crest: While a bird may have a crest on its crown, the two features are distinct. A crest is a raised structure or feathers that can be moved and manipulated. All birds have crowns, but not all birds have crests.
A bird's crown can be distinct and noticeable in several ways. Many birds have a crest on the crown or an otherwise distinct crown shape with the peak closer to the front or back of the head. Some species can manipulate their crown by raising and lowering feathers to change its shape as a form of courtship display, territorial defense, or aggression. Some birds even have longer plumes that extend from the crown, though those plumes may only be present during the breeding season.
Even if the shape of the crown is not distinctive, unusual plumage such as different colors, spots, crown stripes, or lateral stripes that frame the center of the crown are also common. Birds that have these types of crown markings may be called "crowned" in common or colloquial names, such as the ruby-crowned kinglet, black-crowned night-heron, or white-crowned sparrow. Birds that are called capped and crested also often feature distinct crowns.
Identifying Birds by Crown
Because crowns are readily visible no matter what a bird's posture, they are useful for identification. Look for different crown colors, stripes, streaks, or spots, and note the shape of the crown in terms of a crest or overall head shape. For example, lesser and greater scaups are difficult to distinguish, but the lesser scaup has a more pointed crown with the highest point further back on the head, while the greater scaup has a more rounded, level crown. When studying a bird's crown, also note how the top of the head either blends in with or contrasts to adjacent features, such as the nape, lores, and auriculars.
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