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.
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1jMZVqxwCA

If you prefer books, check out my book list on my blog.
Link: https://foundfeathers.org/2020/07/18/the-feather-enthusiasts-reading-list/

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.
Link: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/all-about-feathers/#what-is-unique-to-birds.php

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.
Link: http://www.twincitiesnaturalist.com/2011/08/identifying-loose-bird-feather.html

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.
Link: https://www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/idtool.php

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.
Links: https://www.airspacemag.com/as-interview/carla-j-dove-180963199/
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/science/how-to-identify-a-bird-from-a-single-feather/

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.
Links: https://www.featherfolio.com/blog/guide-to-legal-and-illegal-feathers-in-the-usa-updated
https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/migratory-bird-treaty-act-protected-species.php

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

Have a great day!

Posted by featherenthusiast featherenthusiast, September 24, 2019 20:08

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