Good Luck With The Furcula Today Everyone!

Furcula – previously known as the “merrythought”…

Pulling on the wishbone to see who gets the long end when it breaks and then has their fondest wish granted has been a festive holiday tradition for centuries. It came to us from the English in the 1600’s (at that time they called the wishbone the “merrythought”) but the “magic” attributed to that oddly shaped bone came to them from the Romans who got it from the ancient Etruscans in Italy. Who doesn’t have fond memories of kids (and sometimes adults) squabbling over who gets a chance at the wishbone, since only two can participate?




By I, Toony, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The actual name of the wishbone is the furcula – seen in red in the stylized rendition of a bird’s skeleton above. It’s formed by the fusion of the two clavicles (collarbones) in most birds and some dinosaur skeletons. In humans our clavicles are unfused.

One of the primary functions (there are several) of the furcula in birds is to make flight more energy-efficient. The bone is incredibly flexible (as impatient humans have learned when they try to break the wishbone before it has been dried and rendered brittle) and that flexibility contributes to its function. When a bird’s wings are powered down in flight by the huge pectoralis muscle the ends of the furcula are stretched apart which loads them with “spring energy”. Then when the wings begin the upstroke the stored energy is transferred and helps to move them in an upward direction as the ends of the furcula return to their previous shape.

It’s complicated – several muscles and tendons are involved but what an ingenious partial solution to the vexing problem of providing enough energy to power flight without requiring even larger muscles which would add weight and make flight even more energy consumptive.  The ends of the furcula are stretched apart by as much as 50%. They then contract during the upstroke – acting like a spring and powering the upward movement of the wings.




So the next time you’re admiring the power and grace of a bird in flight (such as this male Northern Harrier) keep in mind that the “wishbone” is partially responsible for their aerial magic. Evolution is a marvelous thing!


Ok, enough academics on this Thanksgiving morning. I hope each and every one of my readers has a wonderful and joyous holiday with family and friends and if you partake of the wishbone tradition may you get the long end of the bone and your fondest wish come true.

As for me – yes, I’m having turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and I already know what I’m going to wish for if I win the tug on the bone. During a wet and heavy snowstorm last night I heard a loud crash and simultaneously felt my house shudder and shake as if a vehicle had crashed into it. I got out of bed, dressed, grabbed a powerful flashlight and went outside in the snow to investigate and my biggest fears were realized. A huge branch from my enormous elm tree broke off and crashed onto my roof. That branch is as large as some mature trees.

My wish will be that there’s no significant damage to my roof. I won’t know until later today when it hopefully warms up enough to melt the snow up there so I can safely climb up on the roof and investigate. Wish me luck…



64 comments to Good Luck With The Furcula Today Everyone!

  • Diane Bricmont

    Late to the party once again, Ron, but very thankful for your blog, and happy to hear that your roof damage is minimal. Beautiful shot of the Grey Ghost. Can’t wait to see what you find tomorrow!

    • If I go tomorrow I hope I have better luck than I did today, Diane. But then I have to remember that there was no major damage to my roof and I didn’t slip off while I was up there so I’ll take the luck I DID get!

  • Thank you Ron for your great images and the educational blogs you provide. They are the highlight of my day!

    Hopefully your roof was not damaged from the tree limb. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    • Ed, I got the limb cleared off my roof but it was a little dicey up there because the snow never completely melted and it was slippery as hell up there. I survived though.

      If there was any damage it would have been minor. I could have a small puncture or two in my asphalt shingles but I won’t know for sure until all the snow’s gone.

      It could have been much worse. That big limb barely missed my brick chimney!

      • Good news Ron. I was wondering what it would be like on the roof with the snow and ice. Thankfully you were able to clear the limb and not get hurt. Perhaps take a few days off from the roof and do what you love in the new snow.

  • Jean

    Happy Thanksgiving Ron. Beautiful photo of the bird. I hope your roof is ok.

  • Stephen

    Ron and all,

    Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the wonderful pictures and tips you share. But mostly to see the one and only RON DUDLEY in his “Harrier” tagged pick-up at Farmington Bay this Thanksgiving morning. He gave me a nice wave and his smile looked just like his picture! Although my pictures may not measure up at least I know I am in the right place at the right time. The rest, I guess, is all me! Happy Thanksgiving…


    • Stephen, Not sure it was the “right place at the right time” – I was skunked this morning. Too many hunters for me so I tucked my tail and headed home. That place was almost like a Wal-Mart parking lot but it’s typical for Thanksgiving morning.

      Next time flag me down and say hi (assuming neither of us is on a bird of course…)

  • Linda Civey

    Gosh I forgot to tell you how much I love your though-provoking stories! I will remember todays story and impress my photo-bird-loving pals!!

  • Linda Civey

    Bummers Ron, climb safely and I hope you get that wish!!

  • Debbie

    Happy Thanksgiving Ron. I am thankful for your blog and learning new and interesting things about birds, like the furcula, and meeting new birds I never knew existed. Good luck with your roof and please be careful up there!

  • Chris Sanborn

    Awesome NOHA and very cool info about furcula. But not so cool about tree limb and roof — please be careful during your inspection! We want you and yours to enjoy the holiday and return soon with more fabulous feathered photography! Good luck up there, Mr. Dudley.

  • Wendy Chapman

    Happy thanksgiving. I am sure you are still thankful for your safety in the crash and for the way you live your life. Ethically, filled with your passion, and enclosed in the warmth and love of family and friends.

  • Laura Culley

    Ain’t birds just cool? I mean, they’re seriously cool. And thanks so much for the biology lesson! Again, just cool! And good luck with YOUR furcula! May all your wishes come true.
    Having been there with a tree through the roof (hurricane in Houston), I sympathize heartily. I’m hoping that the light of day tells you that it wasn’t all that bad and you can fix whatever damage is there quickly and painlessly (or as painlessly as possible). We had the issue that everybody had trees through the roof along with a whole bunch of other damage. As it turned out, that’s how I got my last German shepherd puppy. What better time to housebreak a new puppy than without carpet in the house? Yin/yang again.
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Be truly thankful!

    • “Ain’t birds just cool? I mean, they’re seriously cool”

      Laura, when you make statements like that, and you often do, I know without doubt how much you admire the unique adaptations and the mysteries of birds.

      They’re such marvelous creatures in so many ways. As a biology teacher I used to rattle on for days in my zoology classes on a single avian subject – the unique adaptations of birds for flight. It’s a long and fascinating list.

  • Kevin Neal

    I Always Enjoy your photos, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  • April Olson

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Mia.

    The furcula is a bugger to repair in injured birds, don’t break yours while climbing on a snowy roof!

    • I hadn’t thought about the issue you rehab folks must face when you get a bird with an injured furcula, April. I can only imagine!

      I presume that type of injury might most often be caused by collisions with vehicles, windows etc…?

  • Zaphir Shamma

    Happy Thanksgiving Ron!! And…killer Male Northern Harrier too.

  • Marty K

    Thank you for the furcula “fysics” lesson this morning. Ain’t Natural Selection grand? 🙂 I really hope your roof is unscathed and that you remain so during your inspection of it!

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. May you all get the big half of the wishbone (unless you’re like our weird family and put it in vinegar to see how many knots you can tie in it).

  • Happy Thanksgiving! May the bird be juicy and the branch damage minimal.

  • Dick Harlow

    Great image of the Gray Ghost!
    Thanks for the wishbone lesson!!
    Are you all (Utah) going to get some water relief from the snow, or for that matter from the projected winter forecast 2016 /2017?

    Here is hoping that your roof will be mildly dented and able to be repaired if there is a problem. Not a good sound to have at night!

    Have great Thanksgiving with good food, exciting conversation surrounded by friends and family!

    • Dick, this storm only dumped a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow and it was quite localized – probably due to lake effect. 30 miles north of here (Farmington) the ground was bare this morning though they forecast up to 8″ of snow in the mtns. Last I heard our long-term forecast for the winter was a dry one.

      Hydrologists around here are saying we’ll need about 140% of normal snowpack in the mountains this winter to have any noticeable effect on the level of the Great Salt Lake. It isn’t looking good…

  • Sharon Constant

    Gosh, Ron. I’m so sorry to hear about your roof and your elm tree. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! (Love your Northern Harrier image!)

  • Susan Stone

    Thank you for the lesson on wish bones. All stuff I’ve never encountered before. The shot of the Harrier is simply gorgeous. I hope you get the long end of the wish bone and that your wish comes true. You don’t need roof problems. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Another interesting, informative posting…but a worrisome one, too. I hope you have minimal damage to your roof and no structural damage…will be thankful to find out it’s OK…

  • Wonderful expression and body on the harrier. I feel the old anthropomorphism temptation coming on.

  • Be safe on the roof as I can relate to your tree limb issue! I do wish you and all a bellyful Thanksgiving. Don

  • Trudy Brooks

    Interesting to hear about the wishbone. I too hope no real bad damage on your roof. Love all your pictures and stories.

  • Deborah Donelson

    Oh dangit. If it ain’t one darn thing it’s another. May your wish come true, furcula or no. Fabulous academics, thank you!
    I’m not sure that Tofurkeys have furculas…

  • Diana

    Ron, the Harrier photo is glorious. Free flight must be awesome. Thank you for ll the photos and happy day to you and yours. Diana

  • Nancy Blake

    Stunning image, Ron!! Be careful on the roof, will you have a spotter with you?

    Happy Thanksgiving, and may your wishes come true, with or without a furcula.

  • Have a great Thanksgiving and please be careful on the roof. Glad we have no snow, leaves are still on many of the trees and there were be a lot of damage if we got and ice or snow now.

  • This year I think many of us will be wishing for the same thing!

    To this wish I’ll add my own wish that your house withstood major damage.

    And I love learning how the wishbone works. Thanks!

  • Judy Gusick

    Wonderful “tutorial”, Ron and great photo, Ron! Sure hope your roof didn’t suffer major damage – never a time, but certainly not this time of year! 🙁 Happy “Bird Day” to you and yours also – tho I suspect most days are a “happy bird day for you” 🙂

  • Budd Black

    Thanks for the education, Ron. It’s like I’m back at South High all over again.

    Happy Thanksgiving, and good luck with the roof.

  • Great photo! Good luck with the roof – I sympathize based on experience. Trees are best upright.