There is something very satisfying in finding feathers. Perhaps like foraging the practice of finding and making sense of an object appeals to my inner hunter-gatherer. Feathers are also beautiful and they smell lovely of everything old and comforting.
My husband Ed has been collecting feathers for years from various trips and countries we visited. When we began our search for sparrowhawk nests our collection has expanded to include some amazing examples. Hopefully the photos below convey how incredibly beautiful and fresh the feathers were when we found them.
Blue tit, most likely plucked by a musket, a male sparrowhawk:
Water rail beak and feathers, most likely plucked by a female sparrowhawk. These were so fresh with bits of sinew still attached to the beak:
Tree creeper, most likely plucked by a musket:
Long-eared owl, maybe plucked by a female sparrowhawk:
Magpie, possibly plucked by a female sparrowhawk (note broken ends):
We don’t always take feathers with us, sometimes they are better left behind. But we always take feathers that we can’t identify. There is one particular book we use which is amazing if you would like to become a wildlife detective:
Ever wondered which animal poops on the path where you walk your dog? Or wanted to identify a feather or wild tracks? This book is full of information and photographs to guide you.
Many birds will start their molt this time of year – a process when they shed old feathers and replace them with shiny new ones. It takes place over spring and summer months when food availability and daylight are at their optimum. This means that when you are in the woods you are bound to find feathers, even if it’s just pigeon fluff.
Look for mossy stumps in mixed woodland too and you might even find feathers of a sparrowhawk kill. It looks something like this:
But I have to warn you that finding feathers is addictive! Once you start you will never be able to walk in the woods without constantly looking under your feet for new finds.
I admire people who know trees and plants and especially who can identify birds and their different songs. To me it’s like being fluent in a language that most people cannot understand.
Our survival does not depend on being able to know the birds or on being able to read the landscape. On our way to work we don’t have to identify signs and landmarks to find our way back. We don’t need songlines to guide us. But I think it’s great to know who we share our gardens with and what they are up to.