By Wendy Langhans
When you see a feather on the ground, have you ever wondered where it came from? Was it a Red-tailed hawk or a Western scrub jay? Did you ever wonder why that bird lost that feather? Was it an encounter with a predator or a natural part of its annual or semi-annual molt, where worn-out feathers are replaced with new ones? When you ask the right questions, feathers tell a tale.
When I spot a feather on the ground, I usually see a flight feather or a contour feather.
Flight feathers are the strong tail and wing feathers that are used for flight. They’re long and sleek, with symmetrical sides and a blunt end (tail) or asymmetrical sides and a tapered end (wing). Contour feathers, on the other hand, cover the body and are what gives shape and color to the bird. They have a “fuzzy” down at their base.
Color and size give me a clue to what bird it came from. Some clues are easy. A large long coal-black feather, for example, could be a flight feather from crow or a raven or turkey vulture. But sometimes I really don’t know. And just who decided that a tale always has to have a neatly packaged ……?
For more information about feathers, you can visit:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/publications/volunteer/young_naturalists/feathers/feathers.pdf 
And The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
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