Avian Vertebra

Overall Functions

  • Lightweight – adapted for flight
  • Limited movement of vertebral column prevents loss of energy during flight

Organization of Vertebra

Avian vertebra side view

Cervical Region

Cervical Region:

  • 8 to 25 vertebra
  • Very flexible; most birds can turn their heads up to 180°
  • Functions:
    • Acts as a shock absorber
    • Aids in the reaching for food on the ground
    • Aids in the adjustment of the center of gravity; shifting from standing to flight positions
Dorsal Region

Dorsal Region:

Similar to the thoracic region in mammals
  • 6 to 10 fused vertebra
  • Function:
    • Attachment for ribs

Avian vertebra neck and back view

Cervical Region

Cervical Region:

  • 8 to 25 vertebra
  • Very flexible; most birds can turn their heads up to 180°
  • Functions:
    • Acts as a shock absorber
    • Aids in the reaching for food on the ground
    • Aids in the adjustment of the center of gravity; shifting from standing to flight positions
Dorsal Region

Dorsal Region:

Similar to the thoracic region in mammals
  • 6 to 10 fused vertebra
  • Function:
    • Attachment for ribs
Synsacrum

Synsacrum:

similar to the sacrum in mammals
  • Unique feature to birds
  • 10 to 22 fused lumbar, sacral and first few caudal vertebra
  • Function:
    • Fused to pelvis to provide support for bipedal motion
Caudal Region

Caudal Region:

similar to the coccyx in mammals
  • 5 to 10 vertebra
  • Function:
    • Control of feather movement during flight
Pygostyle

Pygostyle:

  • 4 to 7 fused vertebra
  • Functions:
    • Attachment for feathers
    • Locomotion
    • Behavior adaptations (i.e. mating “dances”)

Avian vertebra back view

Dorsal Region

Dorsal Region:

similar to the thoracic region in mammals
  • 6 to 10 fused vertebra
  • Function:
    • Attachment for ribs
Synsacrum

Synsacrum:

similar to the sacrum in mammals
  • Unique feature to birds
  • 10 to 22 fused lumbar, sacral and first few caudal vertebra
  • Function:
    • Fused to pelvis to provide support for bipedal motion
Caudal Region

Caudal Region:

similar to the coccyx in mammals
  • 5 to 10 vertebra
  • Function:
    • Control of feather movement during flight
Pygostyle

Pygostyle:

  • 4 to 7 fused vertebra
  • Functions:
    • Attachment for feathers
    • Locomotion
    • Behavior adaptations (i.e. mating “dances”)