U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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This website is designed to assist feather identification by providing high-resolution scans of flight feathers of major groups of North American birds. This is an ongoing project that will continually add new species.

How to use the Feather Atlas

To search the image database by the common or scientific name of a bird species or group, click on "Search Scans." To browse by taxonomic group (for example, owls or woodpeckers), click on "Browse Images." Feather identification can be made by comparing an unknown feather with the scans of similar feathers on the Feather Atlas. The range of possibilities can be narrowed down by examining the details of plumage illustrated in bird field guides.

The scans typically illustrate the dorsal surfaces of 12 wing flight feathers (remiges) or six tail feathers (rectrices) from an individual bird (definitions of feather terms, with illustrations can be found on the Glossary page). If the ventral surfaces of the feathers reveal distinct patterns not visible in the dorsal view, then a ventral scan is also provided.

For certain species (e.g., Bald and Golden Eagles, and many ducks), all the primaries are illustrated, and separate scans are provided for secondaries and occasionally other feather types, such as coverts.

Bird tails are symmetrical in feather shape and pattern on the two halves of the tail. Feather Atlas tail feather scans include all the feathers from the right half of the tail, with the outermost always shown on the left.

To illustrate the range of variation in flight feathers, sexually dimorphic species are represented by scans of both male and female feathers. Flight feather variations among different age classes and color morphs are also illustrated if these occur. Additional variants will be added to the Feather Atlas as specimens become available.

A data table of total feather lengths and vane lengths is provided for each scan, beneath the image of the scanned feathers. This table also summarizes age, sex, and locality data for the specimen represented in the scan. More information on the data table and on how the scans were created are presented on the "About" page.

The Legal Status of North American Bird Feathers: All species of native North American migratory birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty (MBTA). Some species are also protected by additional statutes, such as Endangered Species Act (ESA). The list of MBTA-protected species can be found at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/regulationspolicies/mbta/taxolst.html.

The possession of feathers and other parts from MBTA-protected birds without a permission is prohibited. The only exceptions are the feathers of legally-hunted waterfowl or other migratory gamebirds, which may be possessed by hunters. This prohibition extends to molted feathers and to feathers taken from road- or window-killed birds. Individuals or institutions wishing to use bird feathers, bones, or whole specimens for educational or research purposes must apply for permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their state wildlife or natural resource agency. For more information see http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/mbpermits.html.


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