[Birding-Aus] Feathers

To: 'Robin and Rupert Irwin' <>, "" <>, "'Chatline Canberrabirds'" <>
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Feathers
From: Philip Veerman <>
Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2021 23:57:39 +0000
Hello Robin,

A few ways to address this: You can do your own research about such a book but 
I have never seen one. It is a good idea, actually it is a crazy idea but would 
be fun to try. Maybe if I had another 15 years of available time and travel 
resources to indulge such a pursuit I might do it, but there is really no 
financial incentive to embark on such a task (would cost a fortune to do it and 
no real return). Think about how many different colour patterns there are on 
just one bird. Most good books about bird biology will include a chapter or 
section about feathers: structure, moult, growth, etc. Not many such books are 
about Australian birds but then the subject is world-wide. However I don't 
think that is what you are asking. I suspect you are asking about how to 
identify feathers that you might happen to find unattached from their bird. 
Having thought that, I will indulge everyone on my thoughts and hope that is 
really what you are asking. I will also send onto cog list as readers there may 
be interested. 

I consider myself as pretty good at this skill. Of course there are others 
around who are too. In April 2015 I gave a presentation on that subject (at the 
COG monthly meeting) and have the file still on powerpoint. The best that can 
do is provide initial tips. I am not going into the aspect of identifying them 
from chemical analysis, because that is not available to the ordinary person 
just by looking. I learned most from collecting them through many of my young 
years (mostly up to 40 years ago). Working out what they are, labelling and 
putting in boxes and keeping a card register system. Doing this does not have 
any of the damage associated with the far more common habit of egg collecting 
(which never attracted me). It was a lot of fun to me at the time. My 
collection was all from things just picked up, birds from captivity, dead birds 
found by roadside, bush or beach, etc. I even went to the bother of getting an 
official government permit for doing so. I also spent many hours in the 
Melbourne and later Brisbane museum checking or verifying the conclusions I had 
reached. Mostly by myself or sometimes getting help from - if I remember the 
names right - McEvey & Vernon respectively. One I especially remember was one 
of the early records of Red-chested Button-quail in Victoria (in 1975) how I 
found a pile of feathers and was pretty sure they were of the Red-chested 
Button-quail (we were there with the specific intent of looking for them across 
the border), at the edge of a grain paddock near Dookie, after having seen many 
in NSW (in the same habitat on a particularly good season) and going into the 
museum basement with McEvey to check the specimens against my feathers. The 
colour pattern was a distinct match. I wrote it up for The BO and it was I 
think my first published bird report. I still have the feathers.

Doing so I get to understand the principles of working out what things are. The 
main points are: by the shape of feathers you can normally get a pretty good 
idea of what part of the bird they are from. Then knowing where they fit on the 
birds, the size will give a good indication of the size of the bird. That is 
why requests for help by a photo should always include a ruler or some sign of 
scale. I have had some pretty crazy suggestions like where a person asked if a 
feather could be of species A when the feather itself was almost as big as the 
whole bird. Texture and feel will give many clues, e.g. owls and frogmouth 
feathers are soft and fluffy. Strongly flying birds like falcons have fairly 
stiff flight feathers. Having done that you translate the information available 
about colours to know what part of the bird to look at in the available books. 
Most important is to relate to that when you are looking at a feather you see 
the whole thing. On a live bird, especially with wings shut, you only ever see 
the outer edges. Think about the inner edges, often the colour arrangement of 
wing and tail feathers is totally different on inner and outer webs, translate 
that to the colour pattern on under and upper surface of spread wing and tail. 
Interpret the whole thing into what is on the whole bird and that is the most 
important clue. Then again we all should get to know the really obvious ones 
that account for the majority of: "what bird is this from" questions: they are 
the Tawny Frogmouth and the inner secondary feathers of White Ibis that are 
white with the fluffy black inner webs. 


-----Original Message-----
From: Birding-Aus  On Behalf Of 
Robin and Rupert Irwin
Sent: Tuesday, 26 January, 2021 1:33 PM
Subject: Feathers

I’m wondering whether there has been a book published on Australian bird 
Robin Irwin
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