Birds are the only animals that have fathers. Birds have 940 to 25,000 feathers, depending on the species. They serve as insulation and aid in flight. As the feathers wear, they are periodically replaced. During a partial molt, only some of the feathers are replaced (such as when males don colorful plumage during mating season). A more complete molt takes place after breeding, and before migration. Feathers are lost a few at a time from both sides of the body, so that a bird is still evenly balanced. Look on the ground for the fallen feathers.
Feathers are of two basic types, contour and down. Contour feathers are those found on the body, wings and tail. Notice how the individual strands (called barbs) lock together. Separate one of the barbs from the rest. Itâs like unlocking a zip-lock bag, isn’t it? Birds spend a lot of time getting the barbs realigned. Tail feathers have the shaft running exactly down the middle; the shafts of wing and body feathers are slightly off-center.
Down feathers are the fluffy feathers you may know from down coats, comforters and pillows.
It’s harder to tell what bird a feather has come from, unless it’s an obvious one like a blue jay feather. What can you tell about the feathers you have found? Can you identify various northern Wisconsin birds ? The US Fish & Wildlife Service has a Feather Atlas with a growing database of feather scans which could help you identify the treasures you find.
There are laws that prohibit collecting bird feathers. But it’s okay to keep those that have naturally molted, or that you have plucked from road-side kills.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Si1very]