Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FWS Feather Atlas

Feathers found in yard- Mourning Dove

Feather Atlas scanned image of Mourning dove feathers

Mourning Dove © Ken Schneider, December 2008

About a month ago, I found the Fish and Wildlife service Feather Atlas.  I have found this website to be a great resource in identifying feathers found out on the trail and in the yard.  It has great scanned images of flight feathers (both wing and tail) of most North American bird species as well as lots of good information about bird feathers like where the feather would go on the wing, and the names of the different kinds of feathers.  It is really fun to discover another clue of what birds are at home in our backyard.

I have found it very helpful to look through a field guide to get an idea of where to start based on size of bird/feather, color, and expected birds in the area.  Once you have an idea, you can browse scans for a specific bird species.  There is also a 'Search for Similar Feather Tool' (aka choose your own adventure tool) on the website.  This tool helps narrow down the list of options by allowing you to select by pattern and color.

Just so you know, it is actually illegal to keep wild bird feathers.  The Migratory Bird Act was passed in 1918 and protects birds, feathers, nests, and eggs.  It seems overkill, but at the time it was pasted several common birds including many herons were on the brink of becoming endangered and extinct for fashionable lady's hats.  Today this law still protects birds and their artifacts, but focuses primarily on keeping people from killing, selling, and trading birds and feathers.  Of course, if you find a feather and take it home to learn what bird left it, then you probably won't endanger being punished.  So, I don't keep lots of feathers in the house, just one or two that I pick up, identify, and then put it in the yard as an ornament.  They eventually go back to nature, but I get to enjoy it for a while, too.

Okay, here's a feather I found in the woods out back.   It's 13.5 cm long, and I think its a secondary wing feather.  When I first picked it up I thought Eastern Screech Owl, but after looking a the Screech Owl scans it is too big.  It's too small and the wrong pattern for our Barred Owl, so I've been looking at the Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Northern Goshawk, but can't decide.  The pattern doesn't quite fit any, but it is a bit tattered and of course there is variation in nature.  Look over the scans and tell me what you think!

Mystery feather, 13 cm long

Cooper's Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk
Eastern Screech Owl

Barred Owl