This week on Koaw Nature
I’m going to show you
how to identify your feathers in the field
using two cool databases.
One of them being Feather Atlas.
Also let’s not get arrested.
That’ll be a good thing.
Let’s learn some things about feathers as well.
[ ♪ theme music ♪ ]
[ birds singing ]
We see these beautiful birds
around us all the time.
And sometimes they leave us little treasures
that make us wonder,
“Hmm…who did this belong to?”
Identifying feathers can be a tricky task
but I know you can do it,
even as a rookie feather identifier,
and have some fun along the way.
Hey everyone! I am Koaw.
And you may be wondering what happened to my set
if you are a returning viewer.
I’m moving. So the office is sort of cleared out.
This week we’ll identify four different feathers
I recently found.
It’s going to be a really fun adventure of discovery.
I’ll even tell you how feather experts
will help you confirm your identification
or maybe suggest your feather
belongs to another species.
And guess what! It’s all free!
[ crowd cheering ]
Do you hear a crowd cheering too?
[ crowd cheering ]
First and foremost
I want you to know that birds are protected
in the United States and Canada
by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
It is illegal to take feathers with you
and there are very few exceptions.
It’s fairly strict
and includes most all birds in North America.
You can’t keep the feathers off a bird that hits your window
—or even a feather you find walking around your neighborhood.
And the community here at Koaw Nature
not only enjoys the outdoors
but we respect Nature
and therefore we want to respect the laws
that are set to protect our native species
and wildlife in general.
So…let’s do that!
Plus I don’t want you to get fined. That would be bad.
And of course CITES protects endangered species internationally.
Let’s get a little familiar with
the first database we will use.
that was created by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s
Our good ol’ tax dollars at work!
Here you can use their “IDENTIFY FEATHER TOOL”
that uses five criteria: pattern, color, size, position and type of bird.
And you don’t have to submit information into each criterion
but obviously the more you know,
the easier the ID will be.
Feather Atlas lists
just over 400 species of North American birds
that are cataloged with really detailed
and accurate photos of feathers
and their positioning on the birds.
Feather Atlas will keep adding species
to this very cool and impressive database.
You’ll notice that feathers vary in size and color
and other features depending on many variables
like positioning on a bird or sex of the bird.
And as we know,
many birds change plumage as they mature
and many even change their plumage seasonally.
Sexual dimorphism is also very common
among avian species
where males and females have different feather characteristics.
Feather Atlas lists the primary, secondary, and tail feathers
for most species.
You may be wondering what those are!
So let’s do a quick examination of some basic
flight feather positioning.
The primaries are the outer flight feathers.
Most birds have 9 or 10.
The secondaries are the inner flight feathers
that can vary from 9-25 depending on the bird-type.
Those tertials there are the innermost flight feathers—
normally 3-4 in number.
Together, the primaries, secondaries and tertials
make up the remiges, or all the flight feathers of the wing.
The singular of remiges is remex.
So one primary feather would be called a remex
and a single secondary feather would be called a remex.
Tail feathers are also listed in the database.
These flight feathers of the tail are also known as rectrices,
sometimes pronounced as ‘rek-trahy-seez’,
The singular of rectrices is rectrix.
So one flight feather of the tail is known as a rectrix.
The remiges and rectrices are the bird’s flight feathers
that provide the lift and maneuverability
and what will be easiest to identify in the field.
Of course there are other feather types
all over a bird’s body
but we won’t get into that here.
With many of the feathers on say, the breast,
you’d need a microscope
to look at the microscopic properties of the barbules
to identify what species it belongs to—
—and we aren’t going to take it to that level!
Now before you head out into the field looking for feathers,
I suggest making a backdrop.
This will help with the sizing and contrast
of the photos you’re going to take.
Yes! You need to take some photos with your phone
‘cause remember you can’t take these feathers with you.
They are under protection by Federal Law.
So I’ve just grabbed a single piece of white paper
and measured out a simple X and Y axis in centimeters!
Yes, for my fellow compatriots
using the imperial measuring system,
you may be like, “Centimeters?!"
"Why can’t I use inches bro?!”
Well let me tell you why.
Well, that’s because science uses the metric system
as well as most countries in the world.
So using centimeters on your chart
will save you time
from having to conjure up conversions later on.
Trust me. You’ll thank me—and be like,
“Oh I should have subscribed to that wonderful Koaw Nature channel
when I was watching that video!
I’ve also laminated mine with some packaging tape—
because if you are like me in the field,
you’re often getting wet and dirty.
And it’s probably greener to make a sturdy one of these
rather than many more of them over time.
And that Koaw Nature sticker just looks a bit prettier.
Don’t ya think?
Also, keep in mind that some feathers do get quite large—
like this female bald eagle
has a feather reaching around 36 cm.
I only made my chart up to 25 cm.
So you may want to make a taller attachment for your chart.
Let’s look at how
I’ve identified my feathers in the field.
I am in Northern Virginia—
out in some woods right now.
Let’s start with an easier one.
I’ll take three photos.
One just of the feather on the ground
and two photos of the feather on my backdrop,
front and back.
Even though this feather is fairly similar looking
on both sides,
we can see there are differences.
And some species, like a black vulture,
will have very different colors
on the dorsal and ventral sides of a feather.
Now let’s go over some basic feather vocab.
The vane is what has the smooth surface
composed of the interlocking pennaceous barbs.
The anterior vane is forward,
and generally smaller,
and the posterior vane is the trailing edge,
Pennaceous barbs are formed
by the interlocking of barbules.
Plumulaceous barbs are with barbules that are not interlocking.
So the texture of down or fluff occurs.
Some feathers will have both pennaceous and plumulaceous barbs,
or just one and not the other.
The shaft has two parts:
The top part that has attached barbs is called the rachis.
The plural of rachis is rachides (rey-ki-deez or rak-i-deez).
The bottom part of the shaft
without attached barbs
is called the calamus or quill.
The plural of calamus is calami.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
has a really cool webpage
dedicated to teaching about feathers.
I checked it out. I’m going to link that.
You should check that out too.
Also I’ve created a page on Koaw Nature’s website:
that will also have all these links and information
in one spot.
So now with our photos we can go to Feather Atlas.
Remember, they don’t yet have an APP for this
that you can download onto your phone
so you’ll just open up a web browser on your phone
or back at your computer when you get home.
Under the Feather Atlas’s “IDENTIFY FEATHER TOOL”
we’ll first click on “PATTERN”
and see a variety of options.
You can click more than one
but I believe we’ll just click “Two-Tone” for this one.
Then we go click “NEXT SELECTION”
to get to the next criterion choice.
This takes us to "COLOR."
I believe what’s important here
is that you’re not choosing what’s the
most abundant color on the feather
but what’s the most striking or characteristic color.
What stands out to you!
I’d say the yellow
is definitely the striking characteristic of our feather.
And we are only allowed to click one color option.
Let’s click “NEXT SELECTION” to get to “SIZE.”
This is why our chart is so handy!
We can see this feather is just under 13cm
and so that would fit under the “MEDIUM” option.
Next selection takes us to “POSITION” where,
for most of us, we’ll probably leave this blank
until we get better at our feather placement identification.
And the last criterion is “TYPE OF BIRD.”
I know these woods very well
and there is only one bird
that is large enough to have a yellow feather like this—but—
let’s leave it blank and see what the database brings up.
By clicking “Find Similar Feathers”
we will be taken to the choices available
from their database that meet all the criteria we submitted.
And we have about five or six species show up.
And let’s also notice that the forensics scientists
who worked on this
were wonderful enough and diligent enough
to notice that the undersides and the topsides,
those dorsal and ventral sides,
were different enough
to where they felt they needed to put in different catalog arrays.
So that’s really cool.
They did a wonderful job on this.
But our feather most definitely looks like the northern flicker
and maybe even the gilded flicker.
But the gilded flicker’s feathers are too small
and the dark section isn’t quite dark enough to match ours.
Plus—I’m in Northern Virginia
and not in the west coast range of the gilded flicker.
But what if you don’t know the natural range of these birds?
And that’s I want to show you how we can cross-reference
our findings with another database
because we’re not always going to know
where the birds are migrating through—
where they’re hanging around.
That’s just one feature
I think Feather Atlas really needs to add.
And you might have the application Merlin Bird ID,
which is a great tool that I use all the time—
but I want you to try using the iNaturalist application
for a cross reference because
iNaturalist will offer you and me
some other perks we can take advantage of later on.
And iNaturalist is a magnificent tool
for identifying animals and plants and fungi.
You can use it on your smartphone or on your web browser at home.
We’re going to use this cross referencing feature
as we do our next feather.
[ sticks cracking ]
Alright! It looks like we have a little blue feather right here.
So let's get our photos.
Go to Feather Atlas and fill out what we know.
We’ll say this feather is without a pattern.
Blue is definitely the characteristic color.
It is smaller than 8cm.
Click “Find Similar Feathers.”
And we have a number of records show up.
We can see that it’s not a jay feather,
and probably not an indigo bunting feather.
But each of these bluebird species looks like a match.
So we want to figure out where the mountain bluebird,
the western bluebird
and the eastern bluebird are all hanging out.
you could do this quickly with MerlinBird ID, like I said.
But iNaturalist is going to offer us another layer of support
that MerlinBirdID just can’t do.
So I'm first going to browse iNaturalist
for the locations of each one of these species.
By clicking "Explore"
and then inserting our bird names into the ‘Species’ input-form
we’ll examine where these birds are found.
The western bluebird is definitely in the western part
of North America.
The mountain bluebird is also western,
spreading a bit more central—
and those lone spots in the east
are probably misidentifications—or maybe even wanderers.
But yes, the eastern bluebird is in the east—
and I’m in Northern Virginia.
But here is where the super awesome
beneficial part comes in.
Let’s post this observation to iNaturalist.
So we will upload the images.
And we will drag these images on top of the photo
we want to appear first to make it one observation.
And always insert your location first
before looking at the suggested species.
If you are on a mobile phone
and have location enabled,
then it will automatically do that.
But let’s see—huh—
We aren’t getting any bluebird suggestions.
And now you are probably like,
“Koaw! What’s going on man?!"
"You told me there was going to be some super cool perk."
"Where is it?! I’m not seeing it.”
I got you. Bear with me.
We are going to suggest
that we believe this is an eastern bluebird.
But if you are not comfortable making a specific ID suggestion,
just put Aves.
This is the class of birds within the kingdom of Animalia.
This will help other bird experts find your observation.
Just don’t ever leave a suggestion box blank
even if you have to take it all the way to the kingdom
because blank observations
can get lost in the unknown category.
But most importantly,
for what we’re doing,
put this ID in a project called “Found Feathers.”
I will show you how to join this project in a minute.
Placing this observation in Found Feathers
will immediately link your observation to the feeds
of feather experts and feather enthusiasts
who have spent far more hours
identifying bird feathers than you or I.
Yes, there are people out there in the world
wanting and willing to ID your bird feathers!
You can easily join this project
by clicking “Community” followed by “Projects.”
Submit the words “Found Feathers” in the search field.
Then click on that project.
And right where is says, “Leave this project”
is where it would say “Join this project”
if you aren’t yet a member.
I am a member right now
so that's why it says "Leave this project" instead of "Join this project."
And you’d just give that a click.
And you’d join this really cool project
created by Amanda J. aka @featherenthusiast.
And I briefly browsed her website the other day
and I found a wonderful poem
prefaced with some powerful words about bird conservation.
So I’m just going to give her an unendorsed plug
at the bottom of this video
linking her poem at her website
because she is an absolutely terrific writer
and we are going to need far more intelligent,
well-spoken people like her
in our future battles to protect wildlife,
birds and global ecosystems.
So we give a big thanks to her
and all those working on the Found Feathers project
for making it a big success.
Now that you’ve joined the project,
when you click on “Projects”
when submitting observations,
the “Found Feathers” project should be there.
so you can easily put your observation into that project.
So I actually submitted this observation days ago
and on that same day,
two other members of the Found Feathers project
confirmed my ID of eastern bluebird.
I believe that's Greek, maybe,
the leading species observer in the project,
even confirmed that it was a tail feather
by assigning this observation a feather placement.
The northern flicker feather we first went over
also received three separate verifications for the ID.
And we actually know that was a yellow-shafted flicker
because, obviously, the yellow shaft right there.
And so we could maybe try and figure out the subspecies.
I was kind of hoping one of the experts would do that.
Maybe we’ll have to do some more digging.
[ various birds calling ]
I am also going to provide the links to other databases
you may cross-reference your findings against.
One of them being Featherbase,
which is a global project with over 1,400 species.
It’s quite large and has thousands of photos.
so, some of the info, even with English selected,
will still be in German.
The last two feathers I found
are not going to be so easy to identify.
[ leaves crunching ]
Alright. Here's a big one.
So this one is probably...
...a primary feather of a hawk?
That'd be my guess.
Okay, so in Feather Atlas I will select the pattern as barred.
For color I will say brown
because there is a rather dark shade of brown
that would seem to be
the striking characteristic to my eye.
And our feather is about 22cm
so that is a LARGE feather.
Again we will leave the position
and type of bird unselected
and hit “Find Similar Feathers.”
And holy shh…wow…
160 search results.
Keep in mind those are 160 different feather arrays
that are cataloged...not 160 unique species.
So you have your choices.
If you are saying, “Hey…
this is too much work. This is outta my league.”
You can just go pop that observation into iNaturalist
which is the class within Animalia we commonly call birds,
and put it in the project Found Feathers
and let some experts do the work for you
and take a gander.
Or you can rise up to the challenge
and see if you can unwind that feather mystery.
I’ve chosen the latter.
I’m seeing a lot of hawks, owls and other raptor species.
I’m just going to browse these selections
comparing it to my photos
and see what matches the closest.
I’ve found two species
that have feathers very close to mine:
The barred owl and the red-shouldered hawk.
I have four photos from Feather Atlas
with the tail feathers
and primary feathers of each species.
I think we can toss out the tail feathers
because we can tell that the calami,
or the quills on the tail feathers,
are too short compared to our feather.
The barbs of the vane start higher up on our feather.
So that leaves us with the primary feathers.
The barred owl primaries are mostly too big—
plus there is a large white tip
and our feather has a rather lean white tip.
And if we look at the red-shouldered hawk primaries,
these two feathers here look very similar
and match the size.
I'm wondering if we have the feather that is missing
from this catalog entry.
Submitting our entry into iNaturalist
does bring up the red-shouldered hawk as one of the options.
And I’m sure as more feathers are submitted
and confirmed by experts,
the iNaturalist AI software will
be much better at its feather recognition.
And later that day
a couple of members of the project confirmed the ID
of a red-shouldered hawk,
of which I do see almost every day in the woods.
I just really love how
technology can bring researchers...
for collaborations like this.
It’s really cool!
Okay. So we’re near some water.
Here is a big feather.
So there’s one last feather to ID
and we’ll add another level of cross-referencing
when we do this one.
This is a big one!
It hangs off the chart just above 25cm.
Alright. You know the drill by now.
We're first going to start at Feather Atlas.
For the pattern, I’m actually going to choose “Unpatterned”
because this feather is rather drab and not much going on.
grey is really what I’m seeing.
There may be some blue.
And maybe we're going to have to do another search
using blue instead of grey
if no feathers pop up that we think fit.
And of course this counts as a HUGE feather,
being longer than 24cm.
We click "Find similar feathers."
Okay, so we have 50 search results.
We have geese, terns, herons, kites…
lots of options.
So again, I’m doing a bit of browsing
through these feather options.
Great blue heron seems to be the closest fit.
Perhaps as a secondary feather.
This is where our next level of cross-referencing comes in.
Let’s go to iNaturalist
and browse the Found Feathers project database.
There are over 20,000 observations in this project—
so I’m sure they have something that could help.
So at the iNaturalist homepage
we can click on “Community”
and see our recent projects
and just click on the “Found Feathers” project.
And if it’s not there just go click on “Projects”
and do the field submission with found feathers
and click on that project.
Now click on 'Species.'
This will bring up photos of all the species in this database.
Scroll until you find the bird you’re looking for.
And don’t click on the specific name,
or the scientific name.
And don’t click on the common name.
Click on the observations part.
And now we have a lot of observations
of this species to browse.
And I’m more confident
that we found a great blue heron feather
after browsing these photos.
And we’d also receive some confirmation IDs
from the wonderful members of this project.
[ birds singing ]
And keep in mind that the people
in the Found Feathers project
won’t always be able to ID what you have.
Higher quality photos
and accurate size and location information
on your observations will help you get an ID.
I really love filming the great blue heron in the woods
when they are fishing in the creek
and going after the tadpoles in the ephemeral ponds.
I feel really happy to have found
and identified this heron feather
as well as the others!
[ birds calling ]
I always feel closer and more intertwined with the wildlife
when I learn more about it,
This was pretty cool.
And I looked through the list
of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918
and every single feather I found
is protected under this act.
And that should get you going
on your quest to identify some feathers.
If you like the video,
click the thumb that’s pointing up. Not my thumb.
There’s a thumb around there somewhere.
That’ll bookmark this video
and make it easier for you to find
if you ever want to reference it again.
Or just say I like this video.
Also let’s thank our Patrons of Koaw Nature
because they toss Koaw Nature a buck or more every month
and let this spreading of knowledge really occur.
So I thank you for watching.
Best of luck identifying your feathers.
Spread some knowledge. Be Nature-heroic!
So while you are out looking for feathers...
you can also find four-leaf clover.
Now if you’ll notice,
there is another one right next to it.
And always keep out for more
because they’re often growing on the same plant
as you can see.
This is the same stem.
The shoot-off stems there.
But it’s also producing three-leaf clover as well.
One time in Peru I found like eight all in a small area.