5 September 08
I went over to the Raptor Center again at lunchtime to try and do some more foot studies. I was able to get very close, once again, to their Harris’ hawk (a female, nickname Rosa), which was once used for falconry and is totally imprinted on humans. (She is not releasable for this reason but also because she had a bad infection on her wingtips which destroyed her ability to regrow primary feathers, a dealbreaker if you’re a bird that needs to fly.)
Anyway: birds’ feet. There are two common traps lying in wait for any would-be bird artist: drawing the bird’s foot clinging on for dear life, and overworking the foot. Jack Laws urged us to work loose — have the foot be in the same style as the rest of your drawing.
Because of the arrangement of tendons, when a bird perches, the foot contracts, even in a “relaxed” position, and provides all the hold birds really ever need except in very strong winds. Like many other animals such as cats, lizards, horses and hippos, they walk on their toes: the reverse “knee” is really the equivalent to our ankle, and the “shin” is really the tarsus, elongated and properly part of the foot. (The bird’s real knee is almost always hidden under feathers up in front of the hip.)
But the toes: mostly four. The rear one, short, halix: one joint. The joint attaches the halix to the foot. The bird can never, ever bend this digit, no matter how windy it gets. (So no clinging for dear life drawings any more!) Second, inside: two joints. Third, middle, long: three joints. Fourth, outside: four joints. These digits are known to my vet friends as phalanges and abbreviated to P1, P2, P3, P4, with P1 being the most inside (i.e. halix) and working outwards.