Bird Feather Identification Guide

Written by janel bragg
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Bird Feather Identification Guide
The curved wing feathers on a hummingbird help it take flight. (hummingbird image by maiky911 from

Bird-watchers and biologists can identify birds by their feathers, or "plumage." Each feather on a bird has a specific function. By examining a single feather, it is possible to identify the type of bird it belonged to and the part of the body if came from.

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Types of Feathers

Each part of a bird has a different type of feather. Wing feathers are curved to catch the wind, tail feathers are flat and more flexible than wing feathers, while body feathers are soft and full.

Function of Feathers

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a bird's feathers play a role in mating, territorial dominance, regulation of body temperature, camouflage and flight. Male birds attract females and defend territory with bright and colourful plumage. Feathers regulate body temperature by keeping a bird warm and dry. Plumage also help to camouflage a bird in its surroundings, as well allowing it to take flight.

Bird Feather Identification Guide
A male peacock attracts females and defends territory with his bright plumage. (peacock image by Henryk Olszewski from

Feather Identification

The U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory has an online "Feather Atlas," which has a database of bird feathers to help with feather identification. Matches can be found by comparing any found feather to the database of hundreds of scanned feathers.

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