August 12, 2020

Using Found Feathers observations as reference specimens

Thanks to your contributions, the Found Feathers project has become quite an extensive virtual feather collection! I wanted to take a moment and explain how you can use this project as a source for reference specimens in cases where you want to back up an identification by referencing previously-identified observations. This way, we can more effectively utilize the time and energy investment of the many dedicated identifiers who have already reviewed and collectively identified thousands of feather observations (especially the talented @karakaxa who has single-handedly reviewed nearly every single observation in the project!).

To navigate to the project observations, click on Observations under the Totals section on the front page of the Found Feathers project on a computer or mobile browser. Use iNaturalist's search bars to narrow down the results (Species, Location). You may also want to click on Filters, select Research Grade, and Update Search.

If you're looking for observations of feathers of a specific placement (i.e. primary, secondary, tail, body), click to this previous journal post to choose which placement you're looking for, and then use the search bars/filters to narrow down the results.

Here's an example search, which I might use if I wanted to see research-grade observations of Great Horned Owl primary wing feathers found in the United States.

I hope this is helpful! I find it fun to navigate the project observations this way to learn more about what's being added to the project.

Happy feather finding!
Amanda @featherenthusiast

Posted on August 12, 2020 02:00 AM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 9 comments | Leave a comment

April 28, 2020

20,000 Observations!

Hi all,

It looks like we just hit 20,000 feather observations in the Found Feathers project! I am just absolutely stunned by the amount of enthusiasm for feather finding and identification that I have encountered on iNaturalist, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you observers and identifiers who support this project with your time, expertise, and feathers. We've certainly come a long way together since I created this project back in 2017--I have personally grown so much in my identification ability from having all your observations to practice with, and I know that many of you have been able to do the same :)

I won't write this too long, but I just want to establish that while I may have started this project, every single one of you is responsible for getting us to where we are today. I can only hope that this project is as much of a boon to you as it has been to me.

Thank you to everyone, and happy feather finding!

Posted on April 28, 2020 04:47 PM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 8 comments | Leave a comment

January 06, 2020

Using the "Feather Placement" Observation Field for Learning

Since a good number of observations in this project have been tagged using the "Feather Placement" observation field, it can now be used to aid the process of learning the different feather placements.

I've linked each of the field values below, so if you have been having trouble with knowing what tail feathers/primaries/coverts generally look like, check out the links below. If anyone can think of another way that the "Feather Placement" observation field can be used, let me know--at the moment, it basically allows the systematic identification of placements in a way that is both standardized and searchable. Note that this is not a perfect system, and there is some overlap and simplification present in the values I chose to use.

Any of the main flight feathers of the outer wing, generally rigid, asymmetrical, and pointed. Most birds have ten, but the nine-primaried oscines have a significantly reduced P10 (outermost primary).

Any of the main flight feathers of the inner wing. Generally somewhat rigid, asymmetrically curved, and broad with a rounded tip.

Any of the flight feathers of the very inner wing, overlying the humerus. Only present on certain long-winged birds such as pelicans, not a very commonly seen type. HOWEVER, in practical usage "tertial" can refer to the trailing secondaries present on almost every species, which are the group of 1-3 secondaries closest to the body of the bird.

Any of the main flight feathers of the tail. Symmetry can vary based on the feather's position in the tail; central tail feathers are almost always completely symmetrical while the outer tail feathers show a slight s-shaped curve through the shaft.

A set of 3-5 feathers located on the "thumb" of each wing. Similar to the wing coverts but they often have a triangular shape with a pointed tip.

Primary wing covert:
The wing coverts that lay on top of the primary wing feathers on the dorsal side of the wing. There is only one "row" of these feathers, and generally each of these coverts corresponds to a specific primary.

Secondary wing covert:
The wing coverts that lay on top of the secondary wing feathers on the dorsal side of the wing. There can be several distinct "rows" of these coverts on each wing. For the purposes of the observation field, this value refers to the greater secondary coverts (the longest ones) plus anything else that can be identified as a secondary wing covert.

Marginal wing covert:
The smallest wing coverts. These feathers cover the very top of the dorsal side of the wing and tend to be about as long as they are wide.

Under-wing covert:
Any of the feathers that cover the main flight feathers on the ventral (under) side of the wing. For the purposes of this observation field, no distinction is made between coverts adjacent to the primaries or secondaries. Generally very flat, broad, and quite soft and flexible.

A special form of underwing covert found in the "wing-pit." Characterized by a near-symmetrical shape.


Upper-tail covert:

Under-tail covert:


A term that encompasses any ornamental body feathers that can't be properly described by another value--not related to physical placement. Could refer to the ornamental feathers found on egrets or birds-of-paradise, for example.


Any of the body feathers that cover the chest and belly of a bird, excluding the under-tail coverts.


Any of the body feathers that cover the back of a bird, excluding the upper-tail coverts. Inclusive of the mantle and rump feathers.

The most general term for a feather that is not a flight feather. Use this value if you're not sure where your feather came from, but it's obviously not a flight feather (i.e. is fluffy and flexible).

Semiplume down:
Any body feather that has a central shaft but lacks pennaceous barbs (i.e. doesn't have a smooth surface). Can be found pretty much anywhere on the body, usually hidden under other body feathers.

Any feather that lacks a central shaft and lacks pennaceous barbs. (ID tip: sometimes these feathers can be identified to the order or family level by their color and texture, but a species ID is unlikely.)

Multiple types:
If more than one feather type is present and they can't be encompassed by a general term like "Body," use this value. Kill sites should almost always use this value.

I hope this is helpful, and happy feather finding!
Amanda @featherenthusiast

Posted on January 06, 2020 12:45 AM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 5 comments | Leave a comment

September 24, 2019

Useful Resources for Novice Feather Identifiers

Learning the multifaceted practice of identifying feathers can be tricky and time-consuming. There are lots of little clues to look for, and with the world's 10,000 bird species, there are so many plumage characteristics and minor details to keep an eye out for.

This video by the Koaw Nature YouTube channel explains how to get started with feather identification and how to use the iNaturalist Found Feathers project.

If you prefer books, check out my book list on my blog.

Basic Feather Information
With feather identification being as complex as it is, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of bird feathers. Check out All About Feathers, an interactive mini-course made by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's a very well-done guide to the basics of feathers (i.e. feather placement, structure, and function) and is a great place to start, especially if you're a beginner.

The Feather Identification Process
There is no set process or procedure for feather ID, especially here in the Found Feathers project where observations have so much variation in how much usable information they include. It's helpful to see some identification walk-throughs, though, so I've included a nice feather ID story below.

Feather Identification Resources
The Identify Feather Tool on Feather Atlas is a good place to start as it allows you to search by pattern, color, size, position, and/or type of bird. For an exhaustive list of resources, visit the Found Feathers blog's Resources page.

The Smithsonian's Feather Lab
As a note of interest, the Feather Lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. does this sort of feather identification work at a professional level. I actually visited them last July, and I've got to say, the Feather Lab is one of the coolest places I've ever been. Their activities are well-reported, so if you're interested, check out the articles below and give Google a search.

Legality of Feather Collection
If you decide to keep the feathers you find, keep in mind that there are laws that govern what feathers you can keep. While keeping molted feathers may seem innocuous, there isn't really any definitive way to prove that you didn't poach a protected bird species. Therefore, there's a blanket ban on the parts (including feathers) of all protected bird species. Internationally, CITES protects all endangered species. In the US,, most native species are protected. You can find a full list of protected species on the Fish and Wildlife Service website. Additionally, I've linked a more approachable guide below.

If you have any questions or additional topics you want touched on, just let me know.

Have a great day!

Posted on September 24, 2019 08:08 PM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 0 comments | Leave a comment

New Observation Field "Feather Placement" Added to Project

Hi all! I just added the observation field "Feather Placement" to the Found Feathers project. When adding observations in, you should now automatically see a drop-down menu in which you can choose the feather type. This is completely optional so you do not need to do this to add the observation to Found Feathers.

At some point, I would like to get most or all of the observations in this project correctly labeled under this observation field so that more usable data is available to be exported from the project. If you have a moment, take the time to add labels to your observations. Otherwise I will work on it myself when I have the spare time.

Thanks, and if you have any questions or concerns over this change just let me know.

Have a great day, everyone. :)

-Amanda @featherenthusiast

Posted on September 24, 2019 06:47 PM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 10, 2018

Useful Resources for Feather Identification

UPDATE: An updated version is available on the Found Feathers blog's Resources page.

One of the most important parts of suggesting IDs is providing support/reasoning for your ideas, or at least being prepared to defend or reconsider your original thoughts. In the case of feathers, this can mean attaching a link to an image of matching feathers. There are many online resources, more than you might expect, each with their own regional focuses and organization style. Besides being useful for lending credence to IDs, exploring them can help you further your understanding of the similarities and differences between species, the appearances of the feathers of common species, and feather types/placements. Below is a list of three of the online resources I have found to be particularly useful.

  • The Feather Atlas: Almost exclusively US-based. Maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Features the flight feathers(only wing and tail) of over 380 US species. Feathers are set against a scaled grid for easy measurement. Only a few individuals illustrated per species. Link:
  • Featherbase: Germany/Europe-based but contains species from around the world. The types of feathers illustrated for each species varies widely, but generally both body, covert, and flight feathers are shown. Many individuals of a single species are provided, allowing you to see variations due to age and sex. Currently contains over 1100 species from around the world. (I'm actually a contributor, hooray!) Link:
  • Slater Wing and Tail Collection: US-based but contains some worldwide species. Maintained by the University of Puget Sound in WA. Complete wings and tails with both front and back side shown. Multiple examples for many species. Link:

Some others that I use less frequently:

I have a few more, but these three are the ones I use most often. Feel free to message me @featherenthusiast for a full list of all the resources I know of.

Hope you all find this helpful!

  • Amanda
Posted on October 10, 2018 01:18 AM by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast | 0 comments | Leave a comment