U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Forensics Laboratory


Main Page ABout browse scans search scans Identify feather glossary faq CONTACT


Important Considerations

  • Remember that the Feather Atlas, with just a few exceptions, illustrates only the large flight feathers of the wing and tail.  If you have a feather from the body of the bird (which are usually soft, rounded, and with considerable “fluff” at the base), you will not find that feather illustrated in the Feather Atlas.
  • Many bird species show significant variation in plumage patterns based on age, sex, and/or geographic origin.  The Feather Atlas attempts to illustrate major variants, but no reference can capture them all.  This is especially true for such highly variable groups as Buteo hawks. 
  • Many feathers, especially those that are unpatterned, lack species-diagnostic features.  The best that can be hoped for with such feathers is to assign them to a general group.  For example, you may be able to determine that an all-white feather comes from an egret, rather than a swan, based on characters of size and shape, but it may be impossible to distinguish among the various all-white egrets.
  • The Feather Atlas is a work in progress, and our coverage of North American birds is far from complete.  A list of the major groups of birds currently represented in the Feather Atlas can be found by clicking Browse Images.  A complete list of species represented can be found by clicking List of All Species. If you cannot find a match for your feather, it may be that the species is not yet represented. 

List of major groups of birds not yet illustrated in the Feather Atlas

The Feather Atlas is a work in progress, and many bird groups are not yet represented. Failure to find a match using the SEARCH FOR SIMILAR FEATHER process may mean that the unknown feather belongs to one of those groups. Here is a list of bird groups not currently covered in the Feather Atlas, organized by the various patterns and colors used in the search strategy.   This list of unrepresented groups will shrink over time, as the Feather Atlas continually expands.


Unpatterned:   see under Brown, Gray, Black, and White (below)

Two-Tone:  many shorebirds; mockingbird; shrikes

Mottled:  some juvenile gulls (especially tail feathers)

Barred:  many shorebirds; wrens; meadowlarks

Spotted: Montezuma Quail

Colorful Iridesence:  Glossy and White-faced Ibis

Dark Tip:  White Ibis, many gulls and terns, some shorebirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher tail

Pale Tip:  some shorebirds; tail feathers of a variety of passerines, including mockingbird and some thrashers, Eastern Kingbird, waxwings, many warblers, towhees and some other sparrows


Brown:  many passerines; rails

Gray:  many passerines; coots

Black:  cormorants; seabirds; auks; anis; blackbirds and some other passerines

White:  secondaries and tail feathers of White Ibis and many gulls and terns

Black & White:  many gulls and terns

Blue/Purple:  Purple Gallinule; bluebirds, buntings

Green:  dark green: ibis; light green:  many passerines, including some warblers and finches

Yellow/Orange:  many passerines, including some finches, female tanagers and orioles

Red/Rufous:  some shorebird tails (e.g. Killdeer, snipe); Myiarchus flycatchers; Brown Thrasher, Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia, Summer Tanager, some thrush tails

Pink:  some Scissor-tailed Flycatcher tail feathers have pink blush


U.S. Department of Interior Logo