Could You Figure Out Who This Feather Belongs To? 

What if you found a feather in a place you’d never been to before… How would you ID it?

Last week I was walking along a beach in South Carolina, a place I’d never been before, and found the feather above.

I used a few clues to help me figure out who it belonged to.

What tools might you employ or questions might you ask yourself to figure this one out?

Think about it for a minute… then read on to learn what my process looked like.

Here are some of the questions I asked:

1. What size is the feather?

2. What color is the feather?

3. Who is likely in this region?

4. What part of the bird’s body do I think it came from? or What shape is it?

5. Is there anything unique about this feather?

If these questions give you enough to go on and you want to try on your own from here.. go for it 💕.

Otherwise, let’s explore these one at a time below.

1. What size is the feather?

Pretty darn big, I’d say!

It’s helpful to use something you have on “hand” to take a simple measurement. That way, when you get back home you can make an educated estimate. 

If you happen to carry a small tape measure (tracking nerds love to do this), even better.

Knowing the size helped me narrow my options down pretty quickly.

I started thinking about all of the large birds in the area.

2. What color is the feather?

I noticed a deep rich brown on the feather vane and dark brown, amber and cream on the shaft.

This would rule out the Great Blue Heron or Great Egret along with a few other large birds.

3. Who is likely in this region?

I was on the coast of South Carolina. 

What large birds do you think might be likely in the fall here? I’ll let you peruse your field guide to see what you come up with.

4. What part of the bird’s body do I think it came from? or What shape is it?

These are simple questions… but with BIG answers.

There are a handful of things to know about a bird’s wing that will help you figure this out. I won’t get into all of that today, but there are a few you’ll likely notice right away.

First, it has a lovely curve on the right side of the shaft and another swish of a curve on the left.

These curves (technically known as emargination – on the left – and a slight notch on the right) indicate that this bird is one who soars (like birds of prey, ravens, cranes, sea birds, herons, storks, etc)

Second, these curves also tell you where this feather comes from.

If you guessed wing, and more specifically, the primaries … you are right!

5. Is there anything unique about this feather?

Yes! A few elements stood out to me.

When I flipped the feather over to inspect the underside, I noticed that the area of the vane closest to the shaft looked thicker, even waxy.

If this is what I think it is, it’s called the tegmen and is a quality found in many waterfowl feathers.

Also, when I held the feather horizontal, I noticed a very deep curve or arc. You often see this kind of an arch with birds who need to make a quick takeoff… think grouse or certain ducks.

OK.. So… who do you think it belongs to?
Enjoy trying to figure it out.

I’ll share the answer in a few days.

Also.. be sure to check out my favorite resource for bird feather ID… BIRD FEATHERS by Casey McFarland and Dave Scott

Cultivating Deep Nature Connection, Mentoring Bird Lovers, and Teaching Game-changing Skills

Front cover of Identify Any Bird Anywhere Book

Take Your Passion to the Next Level

A girl who fell in love with a bird’s song.

I am the founder of Bird Mentor, a resource for live and online courses helping people worldwide build confidence learning about birds and the natural world. Through my courses, students are immersed in the principles of instinctive birding, deep nature connection, bird language, and my innovative model for advanced bird identification.

In addition to my online courses I teach birding at traditional skills events like Rabbit Stick, Winter Count, Saskatoon Circle, Buckeye, Sharpening Stone and for amazing organizations like the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, The Women’s Wilderness Institute, Crow Canyon Archeological Center, The Vermont Wilderness School, Flanders Nature Center, Eight Shields and The Powerhouse Science Center.

A few years ago I helped to found the Dipper Project, a research study designed to look at the effects of the Gold King Mine spill on avian life in the Animas River in Colorado. I’ve also lead tours for the Bosque del Apache Sandhill Crane Festival, Mesa Verde Bird Festival, the Durango Bird Club and The White Memorial Conservation Center.

During a real bird nerd phase, I helped to band birds on Great Gull Island, focusing on the Roseate & Common Terns, as well as migratory birds at Oxbow Preserve and hummingbirds at Mesa Verde National Park.

In addition to geeking out about birds, I’m also a Naturalist, Herbalist, and Photographer and made contributions to the new Peterson’s Field Guide to Bird Nests and ABA’s Birder’s Guide.

I love receiving your stories and questions if you have any. So, please send me a message whenever you like.


Kristi Dranginis