How To Identify Bird Feathers

How To Identify Bird Feathers

Are you always on the lookout for new feathered friends to add to your list, but have trouble identifying them based on their feathers? Well, you’re not alone!

Feathers are one of the most important tools in bird identification, and learning how to identify them can be a fun and rewarding experience. But where do you start?

Fear not, my feathered friend, because I’m here to help you on your journey to becoming a feather identification pro.

In this in-depth post, we’ll be diving into the fascinating world of feathers, and exploring all the tips and tricks you need to know to identify those winged wonders.

So get ready to take flight and let’s get started!

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Understanding the Basics of Feather Structure

In the world of birdwatching, understanding the basics of feather structure is key to identifying our feathered friends. Let’s explore the different types of feathers and the key features to look for.

First up, there are two main types of feathers – contour feathers and down feathers. Contour feathers, also known as vaned feathers, are the long, sleek feathers that cover the bird’s body and form its shape. Down feathers, on the other hand, are soft and fluffy, providing insulation to keep the bird warm.

Now, what are the key features to look for when identifying a feather?

Well, it’s all about shape, size, and pattern.

The shape of a feather can tell you a lot about the bird’s behavior and habitat. For example, a broad, rounded feather is a sign of a slow-moving bird, while a slender, pointed feather is a sign of a swift-flying bird.

Size is also an important factor – a large, broad feather is often a sign of a larger bird, while a smaller, more delicate feather is often a sign of a smaller bird.

And finally, pattern is what really sets feathers apart. Look for unique markings, such as stripes, spots, or bars, that can help you identify the bird.

Understanding the basics of feather structure, including the different types of feathers, key features to look for, and the importance of shape, size, and pattern, is crucial in your journey to becoming a feather identification pro. So, grab your binoculars, head out into the field, and start exploring the world of feathers!

How to Identify Specific Feathers

Now that we’ve covered the basics of feather structure, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of how to identify specific feathers. Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or just starting out, these tips will help you confidently identify feathers and add new birds to your list.

One of the best ways to identify feathers is by using field guides and reference books. These resources provide detailed information about the feathers of different bird species, including images, descriptions, and key features to look for.

By using a field guide, you can quickly compare the feather you have in hand to the images and descriptions provided, helping you make a positive identification.

In addition to using reference materials, examining the feather’s color and pattern is also key to identification. Different bird species have unique markings, such as stripes, spots, or bars, that can help you identify them.

Pay close attention to the feather’s overall color as well, as this can also be an important identifier. For example, a bird with predominantly brown feathers is likely to be a ground-dwelling bird, while a bird with predominantly blue feathers is likely to be an aerial bird.

Finally, it’s important to compare the feather you have to images and descriptions in reference materials. This will give you a better idea of the bird species you’re dealing with and allow you to make a positive identification. So, get your field guide, grab your magnifying glass, and let’s get to work!

Tips for Collecting and Storing Feathers

Congratulations, you’re now an expert in feather identification! But what do you do with all those feathers you’ve collected? It’s important to handle and store feathers properly to preserve their quality and to ensure that your collection is ethically and legally obtained.

First and foremost, make sure you’re obtaining feathers in a safe and ethical manner. This means not disturbing nesting birds or removing feathers from live birds. Instead, look for feathers that have naturally fallen from the bird or have been shed during the moulting process. Additionally, be aware of any local laws and regulations regarding feather collection.

Once you have your feathers, it’s important to store them properly to preserve their quality. Store feathers in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. This will help prevent fading and damage to the feathers. Consider using archival-quality storage boxes or envelopes to protect your feathers and keep them organized.

Finally, it’s essential to label and document each feather’s source. This includes the location where you found the feather and the species of bird it came from, if known. Keeping accurate records will help you build a comprehensive collection and will also be useful for future reference.

By following these tips for collecting and storing feathers, you’ll be able to create a beautiful and meaningful collection that you can enjoy for years to come.


So, there you have it! Everything you need to know about bird feather identification. From understanding the basics of feather structure to tips for collecting and storing feathers, you now have a solid foundation to build upon.

Let’s recap the key points we covered:

  • Feathers come in different types and have unique features that can be used for identification
  • Field guides, reference books, and online resources are helpful tools for identifying specific feathers
  • Proper collection and storage methods will help preserve the quality of your feathers and ensure they’re obtained ethically

Now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice! Get outside, observe birds in the wild, and start collecting feathers. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at identifying feathers, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to become an expert.

To further your studies, consider joining a local birdwatching club, attending a birding festival, or taking a class on feather identification. There are also many excellent online resources, including birding blogs, forums, and websites, that can provide valuable information and insights.

In conclusion, bird feather identification is a fascinating and rewarding hobby that can bring you closer to nature and help you appreciate the beauty of our feathered friends. So, embrace your curiosity and let the journey of feather identification begin!

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Additional Resources

Websites for bird identification and feather reference

  1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds:
  2. The National Audubon Society:
  3. The American Birding Association:
  4. Birds of North America Online:
  5. eBird:
  6. iNaturalist:
  7. The Sibley Guide to Birds:
  8. The Feather Atlas:
  9. The American Museum of Natural History’s Feather Identification Guide:

Books for more in-depth study

Here is a list of books for more in-depth study of bird feathers:

  1. “Feathers: Biophysics, Structure, Mechanics, and Evolution” by Richard Prum
  2. “Birds: Their Structure and Function” by D. M. Bird and D. E. Davis
  3. “The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Allen Sibley
  4. “The Feather Atlas: An Identification Guide to North American Birds” by Noel Snyder and Helen Snyder
  5. “Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification” by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, Herbert S. Zim
  6. “Feathers: An Exploration from Art to Science” edited by Richard Prum and Mark Ackerman
  7. “The Feather Book: An Identification Guide” by Cliff Shackelford
  8. “The Complete Book of North American Birds” by Jack Griggs
  9. “The Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region” by Donald Stokes and Lillian Stokes
  10. “The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds” by Richard Crossley

These books provide a wealth of information on bird feathers, including their anatomy, biology, and evolution, as well as detailed guides to identifying specific species based on feather characteristics.

Recommended apps and online tools for feather identification.

Here is a list of recommended apps and online tools for feather identification:

  1. iBird Pro Guide to Birds
  2. Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  3. eBird
  4. BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide
  5. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
  6. Sibley Birds 2nd Edition
  7. Peterson Birds of North America
  8. Audubon Birds: A Field Guide to North American Birds
  9. BirdsEye Europe & Africa
  10. The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

These apps and online tools provide access to thousands of bird species and allow you to identify feathers based on various factors such as location, size, color, and pattern.

Many of these tools are equipped with detailed illustrations, photos, and descriptions of each species, making it easy for you to identify feathers on the go.

Whether you’re out in the field or at home, these resources are essential for any bird enthusiast looking to deepen their knowledge of feather identification.

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