Identify a bird by its feather

Gray feather with red tip, about 5 cm (2 in) total length. It was found in Lexington, Kentucky (central western USA).

It seems to be the secondary feather of a Waxwing, a bird from the Genus Bombycilla, like Bombycilla cedrorum:

Cedar waxwing. Source:

Actually, that red tip gives the bird its name (from the Wikipedia link):

They have unique red tips to some of the wing feathers where the shafts extend beyond the barbs; in the Bohemian and Cedar waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax, and give the group its common name.

Therefore, the possible species are the Bohemian waxwing (B. garrulus)…

… and the Cedar waxwing (B. cedrorum):

However, since the secondaries of B. garrulus normally have a white area next to the tip…

… I'd guess that your feather belongs to B. cedrorum.

In conclusion

Besides the white patches in the feathers of Bohemian waxwings, OP just confirmed that the range of the Bohemian waxwing doesn't match. Therefore, this feather belongs indeed to a Cedar waxwing.

Can You Identify This Bird From an Extreme Closeup of Its Feathers?

A bird's feathers serve many purposes, from insulation to camouflage to flight, but for a lot of people, they're just cool to look at. Iridescent and metallic tones reserved for the most venomous animals on land are peacefully flaunted in the sky. The canopies of tropical jungles from Peru to New Zealand are home to some of the most gorgeous animals on Earth. Some of them are rarely ever seen, but when they are, they are unmistakable.

Feathers can be as slick as suede or as soft as cotton. Feathers can form long tails or poofy crests. No two patterns are the same, and they form some of the most amazing colors, spots and stripes in the animal kingdom. Even the birds you see every day, like hummingbirds, pigeons, sparrows and doves, have some of the most distinctive physical characteristics on the planet. If you're quick enough to spot a hummingbird, you might notice that its feathers look like scales. Have you ever noticed the bird in your backyard that is striped like a tiger? And can you tell the difference between a macaw, a cockatoo and a parakeet?

How well do you know your birds? Can you name these birds, based on a closeup of their feathers?


Feathers are among the most complex integumentary appendages found in vertebrates and are formed in tiny follicles in the epidermis, or outer skin layer, that produce keratin proteins. The β-keratins in feathers, beaks and claws — and the claws, scales and shells of reptiles — are composed of protein strands hydrogen-bonded into β-pleated sheets, which are then further twisted and crosslinked by disulfide bridges into structures even tougher than the α-keratins of mammalian hair, horns and hooves. [8] [9] The exact signals that induce the growth of feathers on the skin are not known, but it has been found that the transcription factor cDermo-1 induces the growth of feathers on skin and scales on the leg. [10]

Classification Edit

There are two basic types of feather: vaned feathers which cover the exterior of the body, and down feathers which are underneath the vaned feathers. The pennaceous feathers are vaned feathers. Also called contour feathers, pennaceous feathers arise from tracts and cover the entire body. A third rarer type of feather, the filoplume, is hairlike and are closely associated with pennaceous feathers and are often entirely hidden by them, with one or two filoplumes attached and sprouting from near the same point of the skin as each pennaceous feather, at least on a bird's head, neck and trunk. [11] [12] Filoplumes are entirely absent in ratites. [13] In some passerines, filoplumes arise exposed beyond the pennaceous feathers on the neck. [1] The remiges, or flight feathers of the wing, and rectrices, or flight feathers of the tail, are the most important feathers for flight. A typical vaned feather features a main shaft, called the rachis. Fused to the rachis are a series of branches, or barbs the barbs themselves are also branched and form the barbules. These barbules have minute hooks called barbicels for cross-attachment. Down feathers are fluffy because they lack barbicels, so the barbules float free of each other, allowing the down to trap air and provide excellent thermal insulation. At the base of the feather, the rachis expands to form the hollow tubular calamus (or quill) which inserts into a follicle in the skin. The basal part of the calamus is without vanes. This part is embedded within the skin follicle and has an opening at the base (proximal umbilicus) and a small opening on the side (distal umbilicus). [14]

Hatchling birds of some species have a special kind of natal down feathers (neossoptiles) which are pushed out when the normal feathers (teleoptiles) emerge. [1]

Flight feathers are stiffened so as to work against the air in the downstroke but yield in other directions. It has been observed that the orientation pattern of β-keratin fibers in the feathers of flying birds differs from that in flightless birds: the fibers are better aligned along the shaft axis direction towards the tip, [15] [16] and the lateral walls of rachis region show structure of crossed fibers. [17] [18]

Functions Edit

Feathers insulate birds from water and cold temperatures. They may also be plucked to line the nest and provide insulation to the eggs and young. The individual feathers in the wings and tail play important roles in controlling flight. [17] Some species have a crest of feathers on their heads. Although feathers are light, a bird's plumage weighs two or three times more than its skeleton, since many bones are hollow and contain air sacs. Color patterns serve as camouflage against predators for birds in their habitats, and serve as camouflage for predators looking for a meal. As with fish, the top and bottom colors may be different, in order to provide camouflage during flight. Striking differences in feather patterns and colors are part of the sexual dimorphism of many bird species and are particularly important in selection of mating pairs. In some cases there are differences in the UV reflectivity of feathers across sexes even though no differences in color are noted in the visible range. [19] The wing feathers of male club-winged manakins Machaeropterus deliciosus have special structures that are used to produce sounds by stridulation. [20]

Some birds have a supply of powder down feathers which grow continuously, with small particles regularly breaking off from the ends of the barbules. These particles produce a powder that sifts through the feathers on the bird's body and acts as a waterproofing agent and a feather conditioner. Powder down has evolved independently in several taxa and can be found in down as well as in pennaceous feathers. They may be scattered in plumage as in the pigeons and parrots or in localized patches on the breast, belly, or flanks, as in herons and frogmouths. Herons use their bill to break the powder down feathers and to spread them, while cockatoos may use their head as a powder puff to apply the powder. [21] Waterproofing can be lost by exposure to emulsifying agents due to human pollution. Feathers can then become waterlogged, causing the bird to sink. It is also very difficult to clean and rescue birds whose feathers have been fouled by oil spills. The feathers of cormorants soak up water and help to reduce buoyancy, thereby allowing the birds to swim submerged. [22]

Bristles are stiff, tapering feathers with a large rachis but few barbs. Rictal bristles are found around the eyes and bill. They may serve a similar purpose to eyelashes and vibrissae in mammals. Although there is as yet no clear evidence, it has been suggested that rictal bristles have sensory functions and may help insectivorous birds to capture prey. [23] In one study, willow flycatchers (Empidonax traillii) were found to catch insects equally well before and after removal of the rictal bristles. [24]

Grebes are peculiar in their habit of ingesting their own feathers and feeding them to their young. Observations on their diet of fish and the frequency of feather eating suggest that ingesting feathers, particularly down from their flanks, aids in forming easily ejectable pellets. [25]

Distribution Edit

Contour feathers are not uniformly distributed on the skin of the bird except in some groups such as the penguins, ratites and screamers. [26] In most birds the feathers grow from specific tracts of skin called pterylae between the pterylae there are regions which are free of feathers called apterylae (or apteria). Filoplumes and down may arise from the apterylae. The arrangement of these feather tracts, pterylosis or pterylography, varies across bird families and has been used in the past as a means for determining the evolutionary relationships of bird families. [27] [28] Species that incubate their own eggs often lose their feathers on a region of their belly, forming a brooding patch. [29]

Coloration Edit

The colors of feathers are produced by pigments, by microscopic structures that can refract, reflect, or scatter selected wavelengths of light, or by a combination of both.

Most feather pigments are melanins (brown and beige pheomelanins, black and grey eumelanins) and carotenoids (red, yellow, orange) other pigments occur only in certain taxa – the yellow to red psittacofulvins [30] (found in some parrots) and the red turacin and green turacoverdin (porphyrin pigments found only in turacos).

Structural coloration [5] [31] [32] is involved in the production of blue colors, iridescence, most ultraviolet reflectance and in the enhancement of pigmentary colors. Structural iridescence has been reported [33] in fossil feathers dating back 40 million years. White feathers lack pigment and scatter light diffusely albinism in birds is caused by defective pigment production, though structural coloration will not be affected (as can be seen, for example, in blue-and-white budgerigars).

The blues and bright greens of many parrots are produced by constructive interference of light reflecting from different layers of structures in feathers. In the case of green plumage, in addition to yellow, the specific feather structure involved is called by some the Dyck texture. [34] [35] Melanin is often involved in the absorption of light in combination with a yellow pigment, it produces a dull olive-green.

In some birds, feather colors may be created, or altered, by secretions from the uropygial gland, also called the preen gland. The yellow bill colors of many hornbills are produced by such secretions. It has been suggested that there are other color differences that may be visible only in the ultraviolet region, [21] but studies have failed to find evidence. [36] The oil secretion from the uropygial gland may also have an inhibitory effect on feather bacteria. [37]

The reds, orange and yellow colors of many feathers are caused by various carotenoids. Carotenoid-based pigments might be honest signals of fitness because they are derived from special diets and hence might be difficult to obtain, [38] [39] and/or because carotenoids are required for immune function and hence sexual displays come at the expense of health. [40]

A bird's feathers undergo wear and tear and are replaced periodically during the bird's life through molting. New feathers, known when developing as blood, or pin feathers, depending on the stage of growth, are formed through the same follicles from which the old ones were fledged. The presence of melanin in feathers increases their resistance to abrasion. [41] One study notes that melanin based feathers were observed to degrade more quickly under bacterial action, even compared to unpigmented feathers from the same species, than those unpigmented or with carotenoid pigments. [42] However, another study the same year compared the action of bacteria on pigmentations of two song sparrow species and observed that the darker pigmented feathers were more resistant the authors cited other research also published in 2004 that stated increased melanin provided greater resistance. They observed that the greater resistance of the darker birds confirmed Gloger's rule. [43]

Although sexual selection plays a major role in the development of feathers, in particular the color of the feathers it is not the only conclusion available. New studies are suggesting that the unique feathers of birds is also a large influence on many important aspects of avian behavior, such as the height at which a different species build their nests. Since females are the prime caregivers, evolution has helped select females to display duller colored down so that they may blend into the nesting environment. The position of the nest and whether it has a greater chance of being under predation has exerted constraints on female birds' plumage. [44] A species of bird that nests on the ground, rather than the canopy of the trees, will need to have much duller colors in order not to attract attention to the nest. The height study found that birds that nest in the canopies of trees often have many more predator attacks due to the brighter color of feathers that the female displays. [44] Another influence of evolution that could play a part in why feathers of birds are so colorful and display so many patterns could be due to that birds developed their bright colors from the vegetation and flowers that thrive around them. Birds develop their bright colors from living around certain colors. Most bird species often blend into their environment, due to some degree of camouflage, so if the species habitat is full of colors and patterns, the species would eventually evolve to blend in to avoid being eaten. Birds' feathers show a large range of colors, even exceeding the variety of many plants, leaf and flower colors. [45]

The feather surface is the home for some ectoparasites, notably feather lice (Phthiraptera) and feather mites. Feather lice typically live on a single host and can move only from parents to chicks, between mating birds, and, occasionally, by phoresy. This life history has resulted in most of the parasite species being specific to the host and coevolving with the host, making them of interest in phylogenetic studies. [46]

Feather holes are chewing traces of lice (most probably Brueelia spp. lice) on the wing and tail feathers. They were described on barn swallows, and because of easy countability, many evolutionary, ecological, and behavioral publications use them to quantify the intensity of infestation.

Parasitic cuckoos which grow up in the nests of other species also have host-specific feather lice and these seem to be transmitted only after the young cuckoos leave the host nest. [47]

Birds maintain their feather condition by preening and bathing in water or dust. It has been suggested that a peculiar behavior of birds, anting, in which ants are introduced into the plumage, helps to reduce parasites, but no supporting evidence has been found. [48]


The genus Struthio was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The genus was used by Linnaeus and other early taxonomists to include the emu, rhea and cassowary, until they each were placed in their own genera. [1] The Somali ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes) has recently become recognized as a separate species by most authorities, while others are still reviewing the evidence. [3] [4]

The earliest fossils of ostrich-like birds are Paleocene taxa from Europe. [5] Palaeotis and Remiornis from the Middle Eocene and unspecified ratite remains are known from the Eocene and Oligocene of Europe and Africa. These may have been early relatives of the ostriches, but their status is questionable, and they may in fact represent multiple lineages of flightless paleognaths. [5] [6]

The earliest fossils from this genus are from the early Miocene (20–25 mya), and are from Africa, so it is proposed that they originated there. Then by the middle to late Miocene (5–13 mya) they had spread to Eurasia. [7] By about 12 mya they had evolved into the larger size of which we are familiar. By this time they had spread to Mongolia and later southern Africa. [8] While the relationship of the African fossil species is comparatively straightforward, many Asian species of ostrich have been described from fragmentary remains, and their interrelationships and how they relate to the African ostriches are confusing. In China, ostriches are known to have become extinct only around or even after the end of the last ice age images of ostriches have been found there on prehistoric pottery and petroglyphs. [9] [10] [11]

Struthio ostriches once co-existed with another lineage of flightless didactyl birds, the eogruids. Though Olson 1985 classified these birds as stem-ostriches, they are otherwise universally considered to be related to cranes, any similarities being the result of convergent evolution. Competition from ostriches has been suggested to have caused the extinction of the eogruids, [12] [13] though this has never been tested and both groups do co-exist in some sites. [14]

Today ostriches are only found natively in the wild in Africa, where they occur in a range of open arid and semi-arid habitats such as savannas and the Sahel, both north and south of the equatorial forest zone. [15] The Somali ostrich occurs in the Horn of Africa, having evolved isolated from the common ostrich by the geographic barrier of the East African Rift. In some areas, the common ostrich's Masai subspecies occurs alongside the Somali ostrich, but they are kept from interbreeding by behavioral and ecological differences. [16] The Arabian ostriches in Asia Minor and Arabia were hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th century, and in Israel attempts to introduce North African ostriches to fill their ecological role have failed. [17] Escaped common ostriches in Australia have established feral populations. [18] [19] [20]

There are nine known species in this genus, of which seven are extinct. In 2008, S. linxiaensis was transferred to the genus Orientornis. [21] Three additional species, S. pannonicus, S. dmanisensis and S. transcaucasicus, were transferred to the genus Pachystruthio in 2019. [22] Several additional fossil forms are ichnotaxa (that is, classified according to the organism's trace fossils such as footprints rather than its body) and their association with those described from distinctive bones is contentious and in need of revision pending more good material. [23]

Parts of a Bird: Feather Areas

The colors and shapes of birds are variable, but the arrangement of feathers or feather areas on a bird’s body is remarkably similar across all species. Familiarizing with the group feathers and a bird’s body parts is among the most important tools ornithologists, and birders can have when identifying a bird by its appearance.

Learning the feather areas and feather types of a bird, such as feathers and body parts, will enable you not only to write a good description when you see a bird but also will enable you to understand someone else’s noted description of a bird others see.


Crown: Refers to the top area of the head.

Forehead: Area between the bill and the crown.

Auriculars or Ear Patches: Refers to the feathers that cover the ear area. This area is also known as the cheeks.

Eyering or Orbital feathers: Refers to the tiny feathers circling the eye.

Supercilium: Refers to the feathers that generally run from the bill’s base, above the eye, and back to varying lengths. These feathers are also known as the eyebrow.

Nape: Refers to the area behind the neck.

Chin: This is a very small area located at the base of the lower mandible, on the upper throat. It can often be a good clue to identify certain species.

Malar: Refers to the area along the sides of the lower mandible, between the throat and the Auricular Feathers. The malar area is also referred to as Mustachial Streak.

Throat: Refers to the area below the lower mandible.

Median Crown stripe: When present, it is the area that runs along the middle of the crown, generally beginning at the base of the upper mandible. Lateral crown stripes, when present, run along the median crown stripe.

Eyeline: When present, it is the s tripe that extends from behind the eye towards the nape.


The mantle, rump, uppertail coverts, and folded wings are loosely referred to as the back or upperparts. The rump is generally under the folded wings of a perched bird.

Mantle: Area below the nape. A distinctive group of feathers that cover the upper back and are flanked by the scapular feathers.

Scapulars: Feathers that cover the base of the wing. Scapulars flank the mantle and generally cover the bend of the wing.

Rump: Refers to the area below the mantle down to the uppertail coverts. The rump is generally under the folded wings of a perched bird.

Uppertail Coverts : Feathers that cover the upper base of the tail.

Feathers on the folded wing

Lesser Coverts: Feathers near the leading edge of the wing that overlap the Median Coverts’ bases. These feathers are rarely visible in passerines and are usually concealed by Scapular and Side Feathers when the wing is folded.

Median Coverts: Feathers that overlap the bases of the Greater Coverts. The colored tips of the Median Coverts make the upper wing bars in some birds.

Greater Coverts: Overlap the bases of the Secondaries. Colored tips of the Greater Coverts often are the lower wing bars in some birds.


The feather areas of a bird below the throat and folded wings are loosely referred to as underparts.

Breast: Refers to the area surrounded by the bottom of the throat, the sides or bend of the wing area, and the top of the belly.

Sides of the breast: Generally the area around the bend of the wing.

Flanks: Refers to the side areas below the folded wing.

Belly: The area surrounded by the breast, the flanks, and the Vent.

Vent: Refers to the area between the belly and undertail coverts.

Undertail Coverts: Feathers that overlap the bottom base of the tail.

Tarsus : It refers to the part of a bird’s leg between the thigh and the foot. The tarsus is the part of the leg between what appears to be a backward-facing ‘knee’ and what appears to be an ‘ankle.’

Tibial Feathering: Feathers that cover the tibia above the tarsus.

Speciation: Birds of a feather.

Carrion crows and hooded crows are almost indistinguishable genetically, and hybrid offspring are fertile. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich biologists now show that the two forms have remained distinct largely owing to the dominant role of plumage color in mate choice.

Crows have divided Europe between them. Western Europe is the realm of the soot-black carrion crow, while the eastern half of the continent is home to the hooded crow with its grayish black plumage. The boundary between the two populations -- or more precisely, the hybrid zone where the two meet -- is only 20-50 km wide, and in Germany it essentially follows the course of the River Elbe. This is the only stretch of territory in which both of these species are found and sucessfully mate with each other. The plumage of the fertile offspring of these pairings is intermediate in color between those of their parents. The sharp demarcation between the two populations, however, clearly indicates that gene flow across the hybrid zone is restricted, which implies that hybrids are at a selective disadvantage. "Defining speciation as the buildup of reproductive isolation, carrion crows and hooded crows are in the process of speciation," says LMU evolutionary biologist Jochen Wolf. He and his research team have now analyzed the genetic basis for the division of European crows into two populations. Indeed, the results of the study demonstrate that the old saying "birds of a feather flock together" really does apply in this instance: The only genes that differ significantly between the two variants are those involved in determining the color of the plumage. This suggests that each form preferentially mates with partners of the same color as themselves. The new findings appear in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Europe's crows once formed a single population. This is thought to have been broken up repeatedly during the last glacial maxima over the last tens to hundreds of thousand years ago, during which the crows retreated from Central Europe to milder refuges in Spain and the Balkans. At the end of the last Ice Age, they returned to their old haunts. But they had changed during the period of their isolation. "Most probably, a mutation had arisen in the easterly population, which endowed its carriers with a lighter colored, gray plumage," says Wolf. Then carrion and hooded crows came into contact once again and formed a narrow hybrid zone. However, the genetic mechanisms responsible for maintaining the distinction between the two populations have remained unclear.

In order to identify these mechanisms, Wolf and his colleagues first sequenced the genomes of both carrion crows and hooded crows. "We found that the genomes of both forms are almost identical, and that the few genetic loci that differentiate gray from black crows are likely to be involved in determining the color of their plumage," Wolf says. "We have now carried out a more detailed analysis and determined the degree of genetic mixing between the two populations. Using a technique known as admixture mapping we pinned down the genetic basis of their divergence." To do so, his team examined the variant loci in the genomes of more than 400 birds -- from within the hybrid zone and from the regions in which one or other of the two forms is endemic.

In this way, it was possible to identify the genes responsible for the difference in coloration between hooded and carrion crows. "The distinction can largely be explained by variation in just two genetic factors. In addition, we showed that these two loci interact with each other," Wolf explains. In other words, these two factors together determine the color of the plumage. Further analyses confirmed that the rest of the genome can be freely exchanged between the two populations -- and is common to carrion crows in Western Europe and the hooded crows in the eastern half of the continent. "Only two major effect genes which together encode the feather color differ sharply on either side of the hybrid zone -- the gray alleles are not found to the west of the zone and the black allele is absent in the eastern region," says Wolf. "That's a very strong indication that there is rigorous selection on the basis of color."

How Does Leucism Effect Birds?

Birds with leucism do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides or seen in most photos. Instead, the plumage may have several color changes, including:

  • Bold white patches where the bird should not have any
  • Paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted, or bleached
  • Overall white plumage with little or no color visible

The degree of leucism, including the brightness of the white and the extent of pigment loss, will vary depending on the bird’s genetic makeup. Birds that show only white patches or sections of leucistic feathers, often in symmetrical patterns, are often called pied or piebald birds, while birds with fully white plumage are referred to as leucistic birds.

While leucism does occur naturally in a small number of wild birds, it is more often seen in captive birds or exotic birds deliberately bred to encourage this type of genetic mutation. Many of these all-white birds are present in exotic bird collections in aviaries, botanical gardens, zoos, and private collections. Pure white peacocks, white wedding doves, and white mandarin ducks are some of the most common examples of this type of leucistic breeding.

Identify a bird by its feather - Biology

Lesson Overview
These lessons were designed to accompany the first two parts of the PBS Life of Birds series. Although this lesson plan was developed primarily for grades 9-12, teachers of elementary or middle school students can easily select and/or adapt the following questions and activities for use in their classrooms. Some suggestions for the younger student are included at the end of the lessons.

In the first part of the series, "To Fly or Not to Fly," David Attenborough travels around the world to seek evidence for the evolution of flight. From the Galapagos Islands to New Zealand, species of birds that exist today model characteristics of their ancestors that provide clues to the environmental forces that shaped their evolution. Computer animation enhances the fossil evidence to trace the progress of winged flight from Pterodactyl to Archaeopteryx to Red-tailed hawk.

In the second episode, "The Mastery of Flight," Attenborough explains the mechanics of flight and the unique anatomical features of birds that enable them to defy gravity and achieve phenomenal height and dramatic speed. A variety of bird species, including vultures, Peregrine falcons, and even tiny humming birds demonstrate a variety of adaptations and strategies for survival in the air. Whether taking off, sustaining flight, or landing, birds must overcome the tremendous energy demands of flying. Methods for meeting those energy demands are almost as diverse as the variety of bird species alive today.

  1. Understand how environmental pressures influenced the evolution of wings and how natural selection resulted in the diversity of bird species that exist today.
  2. Understand the mechanics of flight and the anatomical features that provide lift and maneuverability in the air.
  1. Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce.
  2. Knows that natural selection leads to organisms that are well suited for survival in particular environments, so that when environment changes, some inherited characteristics become more or less advantageous or neutral, and chance alone can result in characteristics having no survival or reproductive value.
  3. Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth.
  4. Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth's present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species.

The short-answer questions could then be distributed for completion during viewing to challenge the students to pay close attention. Several discussion questions and one or more of the activities could be utilized after viewing to reinforce the major concepts presented in the program.

Blood Feathers

The words "blood feather" strikes fear and uncertainty into the heart of many new bird owners. What exactly ARE blood feathers and why do so many warnings exist about them? Can a bird really bleed to death if one breaks? Are blood feathers like arteries? What is fact and what is overblown? What should I do if my bird breaks a blood feather? Does MY bird have blood feathers? How do I recognize them? These are many questions new bird owners ask and hopefully this article will answer them in what I've decided to call Blood Feather 101.

Blood Feathers, very simply, are brand new feathers coming in during a process called "molting". Another term you may have heard of. All birds molt, so therefore, all birds get blood feathers, from the smallest finch to the largest Macaw. The size of the feather coming in determines just how large blood feather will be and how noticeable it is. In other words, you may not notice a small cheek feather coming in, but you may notice a primary flight feather. Why?

In order for a new feather to grow, it needs to have a blood supply. The blood supply is found in the shaft of the feather (the thick middle part). In a small feather, it may not be noticeable, but in a large feather, it is easily seen. Feathers in the wings and in the tail are the largest on a bird and therefore have the largest blood supply going to them. These shafts grow from a follicle in the skin, much like human hair. Because they are supplied with blood while they are growing, they are like pipelines to a bird's blood supply. In a sense, they are like veins themselves.

Once the feather is fully grown, the follicle closes and the blood supply dries up inside the feather shaft, leaving it opaque. There is no longer any danger of blood loss if this feather were to break. The time it takes for a new feather to grow is actually quite fast, but there is certain vulnerability while the bird is in its molting stage and has blood feathers.

Can my bird bleed to death if he breaks a blood feather? Technically, yes. I have heard of it happening though not from sources close to me. Usually, when a bird is molting, he or she is growing more than one blood feather at a time so there is a risk that if there is a night fright or accident, he could break more than one and suffer severe blood loss.

Blood feathers are easy to find, once you know where to look. If your bird is not molting, chances are, he or she has no blood feathers. But if you have a bird with clipped wings, you may notice that his primary feathers (wing feathers) have started getting long again. Or for those who do or do not clip wings, you may notice lots of fluffy bits of feathers in the cage (like a pillow exploded), or even larger feathers, like wing or tail feathers, chances are - your bird is molting or at least, beginning to. If this is the case, your bird most likely has a blood feather or two. Blood feathers unto themselves are generally not painful. Often times they get a bad rap and are confused with pinfeathers (those prickly little feathers that stick up and make your bird look like a porcupine. These new feathers, covered in keratin are also associated with molting and if your bird has these pinfeathers, he or she is molting and probably has blood feathers as well). Pin feathers often times make a bird uncomfortable if rubbed the wrong way. Blood feathers often times go completely un-noticed by bird owners because they are not in easily seen locations. If you were to part the feathers at the base of your bird's tail where the feather shaft is the thickest, you might notice that the shafts of his tail feathers are dark and filled with blood! Or, if you flip your bird over onto his back (some birds don't allow for this) and spread his wings out fully, part the covert feathers and look at the base of his primaries, the shafts might be dark and filled with blood. How shocking if you aren't expecting it! Below are two pictures to demonstrate - my five month old cockatiel Antigone (who is going through her first molt) shows off her first blood feathers.

This view is from the underside of her wing. You can clearly see the blood in the shaft of her primary. Next to it is an older feather without blood, for comparison.

If your bird DOES break a blood feather, don't panic! It does not mean your bird is going to bleed to death! It means, as a bird owner, you should be prepared for an emergency BEFORE it happens.

A few things to always have on hand:

  • A pair of hemostats (you can buy these from your veterinarian). If not, a pair of needle nose pliers (tweezers are not strong enough).
  • Corn starch (preferably) or flour in a pinch. Some say Qwikstop but this is a chemical and it also burns so I don't advise it. Cornstarch is best. Use this to stop the bleeding.
  • 2 Q-Tips (preferably vet swabs with the long wooden end): I use Q-tips and swear by them. I give one to my tiels to chew on (great distraction).
  • Clean water: to dampen the feathers.
  • Your avian vet's phone number.

First thing to do is to assess the situation. If you have a bird prone to night frights (like a cockatiel), chances are, the blood feather is going to break in the middle of the night and your avian vet is not going to be open. So you're going to have to be prepared to deal with the problem yourself. You'll have to stop the bleeding first thing. Secure the bird. See the photo above of Antigone for the proper hold. Notice that her wing is stretched out but I'm not compressing her chest. My fingers are splayed in a "V". This is the proper hold. It is recommended to have two people to work on a bird. Sometimes, a blood feather just "cracks". They are kind of "rubbery" and the new feather is inside that shaft, so they don't always break clean off. Sometimes, you can just get by until morning with putting direct pressure on the feather if it's not bleeding badly. This is best if you're not comfortable pulling the feather yourself. Also, if the break is just too close to the follicle and you cannot get to what's left of the feather shaft, its best to stop the bleeding and let your avian vet remove the remainder of the shaft. However, if the break is bad enough and you need too, removing a broken blood feather is relatively simple and the best thing to do.

Dampen the Q-tip in the water to get the feathers wet. (I usually give the other Q-tip to my bird at this time to play with so he or she is distracted and doesn't try to eat my fingers while I'm performing this delicate procedure, haha!) It's easier to wet the feathers and move them aside so you can locate the break. Once you locate the break, get your hemostats (preferably) and lock down on the broken shaft as close to the skin as possible, above the break. If you don't have hemostats, use needle nosed pliers. Make sure the wing you are working on is secured against the surface with one hand, and with a firm yank, quickly pull the broken feather out in the direction it grows in (like you would if you were pulling out a tooth). If you've done it properly, there should be a small bulbous end with a wet substance on the base of the shaft once it's out. You'll notice that your bird might start bleeding from the follicle so you need to put some cornstarch on the area where the feather once was and apply some pressure. **Please refer to the photo diagram below of a broken blood feather. Note the "bulbous end" at the base of the shaft. Seeing this will ensure that the entire shaft has been removed properly. That's it. You're done. Make sure to give your birdy lots of love and attention too.

I've mentioned a few other things in my article such as night frights and molting. If you're interested in learning more about night frights, see this article, and if you'd like to read more about molting, see this one.

Basically, now that you've acquired a pet bird, you've acquired pet blood feathers! They don't have to be a scary thing now that you know what they are and are prepared to deal with them.

Plumage Abrasion

When we look at a bird, we see usually only the tips of the contour feathers.

These tips can be a different colour to the rest of the feathers. Because feathers get worn away at the tips, this can cause a bird’s plumage to change colour as the feathers age.

Many passerines use this method to have one plumage in winter and a more colourful one in spring. They gradually acquire their breeding plumage through abrasive wearing away of the dull – or cryptically coloured – tips to reveal the brighter plumage beneath.

Snow buntings and Chaffinches are two good examples of this.

Watch the video: How to Identify Bird Feathers in the Field. KNOW #37 (January 2022).