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.
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
peacock image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com
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.
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.