You are on page 1of 4


The avian skeletal system
Jacquie Jacob, Tony Pescatore, and Austin Cantor

All animals have a skeleton to allow them to
stand up and to protect their internal organs
and tissues. The avian skeletal system looks
similar to those of their mammalian counter-
parts, but there are some important differ-
ences. Many of these differences relate to the
bird’s need to be light enough to fly while still
maintaining the needed body support.

Some important differences between the
skeletons of birds and mammals are listed be-
1. Some of vertebral sections are fused to-
gether to provide the rigidity required for
2. The sternum provides a large surface area
for the strong attachment of the main flight
3. The size of the head has been reduced sig-
nificantly when compared to other species.
A large head would make flying more diffi-
cult.  Aid in the reaching of food located on
4. The tail has been reduced to a very short the ground - the rigid body makes this
section of fused bones called the py- simple activity more difficult without this
gostyle (sometimes referred to as the Par- modification
son’s nose or the Pope’s nose).  Aid in the adjustment of the center of
5. The ribs have been modified by the inclu- gravity needed when the bird changes
sion of the uncinate process which refers from the upright position of walking or
to overlying flaps projecting off the ribs con- perching to the more horizontal position
necting ribs to the ones beside them. This of flight
gives strength to the rib cage so that it The bones of birds are also lighter in weight
won’t collapse during flight. than those of their mammalian counterparts.
6. The neck is quite long in most species to Some of the bones are hollow and actually act
enable the bird to: as part of the avian respiratory system. They
are called pneumatic bones (pronounced
 Protect the delicate tissues of the brain New-Matic) and include the skull, humerus,
from too much jarring when landing - the clavicle, keel (sternum), pelvic girdle, and the
flexibility of the neck acts as a shock ab- lumbar and sacral vertebrate.

the egg shells would be very thin and weak. medullary bone to draw calcium from. Egg shells Figure 2 on the next page compares the bones are primarily made of calcium and a hen mobi. Me. Figure 1. These include the tibia. a commercial-type main difference is that the phalanges that laying hen cannot obtain enough dietary cal. When in production. have the same general skeletal structure. of a chicken wing with that of a human arm. Without birds to allow for the attachment of feathers. and ulna. 2 . The shell. ulna. mals. femur. A labeled dia- grammatic representation of the chicken skeleton Another important type of bone in the avian While there are some important differences skeleton is medullary (pronounced Med-U. toes and scapula. radius. between the skeletons of birds and other ani- Larry) bones. lizes 47% of her body calcium to make an egg Both have a humerus. dullary bones are an important source of cal- cium when hens are laying eggs. there are also several similarities. make up the fingers of people are fused in cium to allow for daily egg production. ribs. Both pubic bone.

SUMMARY Aside from the obvious role of structural sup- port. and scapula. human (right) leg bones. special types of bones which make up the  Joint between humerus and scapula = chicken’s skeletal system: the pneumatic and shoulder medullary bones. but the body vertebrae are fused together to give the body sufficient The common joints of the arm are easily identi. They are hollow bones = wrist. The chicken walks up on its toes. Comparing the leg joints is not The medullary bones are an important source quite as obvious as with the arm. Calcium is the  Joint at the top of the femur = hip primary component of egg shells and a hen  Joint between femur and the fibula/tibia mobilizes 47% of her body calcium to make an = knee egg shell. The (sternum). Figure 4. bones are the skull. Figure 3 compares the bones of a to be able to breath. The tail and neck vertebrae are movable. Comparison of the chicken (left) and WHEN RESTRAINING BIRDS. humerus. yet strong.Figure 2. ulna. Examples of medullary bones are  Joint between fibula/tibia = ankle the tibia. which are connected to the chicken’s respira- tory system and are important for the chicken Similarly. keel they both have a femur. pelvic girdle. The skeletal system of a chicken is compact and lightweight. REMEMBER THAT THEY CAN SUFFOCATE IF THE BREAST BONE IS NOT FREE TO MOVE IN AND OUT! 3 . toes. ribs. clavicle. Again.  Joint between humerus and radius/ulna = elbow The pneumatic bones are important to the  Joint between radius/ulna and metacarpus chicken for respiration. of calcium for the laying hen. the chicken’s skeletal system has two additional functions: respiration and calcium transport. There are two fiable in both the chicken and humans. Examples of pneumatic chicken leg with that of a human leg. and tibia. fibula. the fibula/tibia combination holds the meat of the drumstick. and the lumbar and femur of a chicken holds the thigh meat while sacral vertebrae. pubic bones. Comparison of the chicken (left) The metatarsus of a chicken is known as the and human (right) arm bones shank. femur. strength to support the wings.

Lexing- ton. Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at www. 1914. sex. Frankfort.Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race. and Kentucky State University. Director. or national origin. age. This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational and nonprofit purposes only. Acts of May 8 and June color.uky. Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice. in cooperation with the U. Issued 02-2011 4 . Land Grant Programs.S. Copyright 2011 for materials developed by University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. Scott Smith. disability. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work. religion. M. Department of