Collecting nature finds is a lovely way to feel closer to the wildlife on your doorstep. Some of the most abundant of these treasures are feathers, and you can find them almost anywhere. But which bird left them behind?
The tantalising traces of passing birds can be tricky to identify. This guide won’t turn you into a fully-fledged feather expert, but it will help you recognise some of the most common feathers you may find.
Feather identification: what to look for
Though every feather is different, there are some key things to look for. Colour is the place to start, followed by size and shape. Take into account feel too, as this can set two similar-looking feathers apart.
Feathers from the wings can be instantly recognisable. These are split into three groups, with some more patterned and colourful than others:
- Primary feathers are the largest and closest to the wingtip. Most birds have about 10 on each wing. Without these, they can’t fly
- Secondary feathers are around the middle of the wing
- Tertiary feathers are those closest to the body.
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Appearance: the primary and secondary feathers of the great spotted woodpecker are unmistakeable: black with large white spots along their edges.
Where to find: great spotted woodpeckers love deciduous woodland with a mix of mature broadleaved trees. Keep your eyes peeled for feathers around the base of large trees where the birds have been drumming.
Did you know that woodpeckers have shock-absorbent tissue between the base of their bill and skull? This clever adaption cushions the impact of their drumming.