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David Sibley’s tips for identifying found feathers

found feathers
Illustrations by David Sibley

Occasionally we run across loose feathers on the ground — sometimes a single feather, sometimes a bunch together (which usually marks the scene of a predator’s meal). Regardless of the situation, the same question always comes up: What species lost these feathers?

The best way to begin is to ignore color and instead study the shape of a feather. All birds share a similar structure, and simple rules will help you determine which part of the bird a feather is from. Knowing that, matching a feather’s color and pattern to a species becomes much easier.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

David Sibley on social media