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Online Resource: The Feather Atlas

March 5, 2018

Found a feather you can’t identify?

OK, maybe you can’t identify any feather, beyond saying, “It’s quite likely to be from a bird.” No matter.

Go to the Feather Atlas at: http://www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/index.php.

Keep in mind that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to possess any feather, even if you found it by the roadside. Exceptions do exist for legally hunted waterfowl and other migratory “gamebirds.” (I suppose “gamebird” refers to wild chicken-like birds such as pheasant, grouse, quail, or ptarmigan, not to the denizens of darkened gambling casinos.)

There you will find umpteen thousand photos of feathers. You can search through them by basic patterns – mottled, spotted, barred, dark tip, colorful iridescence, etc. Then add basic color – brown, white, black & white, green, etc. It then takes you to the similar feathers. All feathers displayed are flight feathers from wing or tail. There are no little body feathers. Top (or outer) sides are displayed as they have the important patterns; occasionally an underside is displayed.

Feathers displayed are all from the right side of the body, which you can tell because if they curve, they curve clockwise from base to tip (see photos below). If your feather curves counter-clockwise, it’s from the left side. The feathers are displayed against a scale measured in centimeters – essential information. If your 20-centimeter feather looks just like one that’s 14-centimeter, it’s not a match. Keep looking. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might get only a few similar feathers, or many hundreds.

Here’s some samples.

From “Barred” + “Brown”

From “Dark Tip” + “Black & White”

For those of us who don’t happen to have a large collection of stuffed and expertly-identified birds stashed in the back room, this can be a handy tool. So far, it’s U.S. birds only.

There’s tons of other information on the site. Have fun! [Chuck Almdale]

 

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