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Indian Peafowl Feathers. Credit: USFWS

Students and Educators

LIBRARY OF MYSTERY PHOTOS

Bird Nest

Common Name:  Edible-nest Swiftlet
Scientific Name:  Aerodramus fuciphagus
Protected Status:  Not protected by U.S. wildlife laws or international treaty.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  Edible-nest Swiftlets make their delicate nests from strands of dried saliva.  These are melted to make the traditional Chinese delicacy, birds-nest soup.  Importation of these nests do not violate wildlife laws, but may be of concern to agriculture and health inspectors.

Bird Nest
Credit: USFWS.

Bird of Paradise Skin

Common Name:  Raggiana Bird of Paradise
Scientific Name:  Paradisea raggiana
Protected Status:  All Birds of Paradise are protected by international treaty (CITES – App. II)
Laboratory Section:  Morphology
What’s the Story?  The spectacular plumes of these birds are regularly seen in the international wildlife trade.

Bird of Paradise Skin
Credit: USFWS.

Hornbill Skull

Common Name:  Trumpeter Hornbill
Scientific Name:  Bycanistes brevis
Protected Status:  Varies; most Asian hornbills are protected by international treaty (CITES), but African species, like this Trumpeter Hornbill, are not.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  Many members of the hornbill family (Bucerotidae) have spectacular enlarged “casques” on the top of their beaks.  The strange-looking skulls of these birds are sometimes sold as decorative curiosities.

Hornbill Skull
Credit: USFWS.

Wing of Coucal

Common Name:  Pheasant-Coucal
Scientific Name: Centropus phasianus
Protected Status:  Not protected by U.S. law or international treaty.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  Coucals are members of the cuckoo family found in Africa and Asia.  Many have strikingly patterned wing feathers that can resemble those of protected raptor and pheasant species.  It is important to be able to distinguish the feathers of unprotected birds like coucals from those of protected species.

Wing of Coucal
Credit: USFWS.

Microscopic View of Duck Feather

Common Name:  Mallard
Scientific Name:  Anas platyrhynchos
Protected Status:  Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Laboratory Section:  Morphology
What’s the Story?  Microscopic examination can allow identification of feather fragments to broad groups (for example, waterfowl), though not usually to species.

Microscopic View of Duck Feather
Credit: USFWS.

Pheasant Contour Feathers

Common Name:  Golden Pheasant
Scientific Name:  Chrysolophus pictus
Protected Status:  Not protected by U.S. laws or international treaty.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  All these different-looking feathers came from the same bird, a male Golden Pheasant.  This variety illustrates the challenge of feather identification.

Pheasant Contour Feathers
Credit: USFWS.

Guineafowl Contour Feathers

Common Name:  Helmeted Guineafowl
Scientific Name:  Numida meleagris
Protected Status:  Not protected by U.S. law or international treaty.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  The black-and-white feathers of guineafowl are often used for decoration.  These birds are commonly raised in captivity, and use and sale of their feathers is legal.

Guineafowl Contour Feathers
Credit: USFWS.

Pin with Kingfisher Feathers

Common Name:  Kingfisher family
Scientific Name:  Alcedinidae
Protected Status:  U.S. kingfishers are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Non-North American species are not protected by U.S. law or international treaties.
Laboratory Section:  Morphology
What’s the Story?  Small pieces of kingfisher feathers are used in this traditional Asian form of jewelry making.

Pin with Kingfisher Feathers
Credit: USFWS.

Aigrettes

Common Name:  Great Egret
Scientific Name: Ardea alba
Protected Status: Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  The long display plumes of breeding egrets are called “aigrettes.”  Huge numbers of egrets were slaughtered for these plumes at the turn of the 20th century, leading to the bird conservation movement in the U.S. and, a few years later, the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Aigrettes
Credit: USFWS.

Mandarin Feathers

Common Name:  Mandarin Duck
Scientific Name:  Aix galerita
Protected Status:  Not protected by U.S. law or international treaty.
Laboratory Section: Morphology
What’s the Story?  Mandarin Ducks are related to the North American Wood Duck.  Both these species are among the world’s most beautiful waterfowl.

Mandarin Feathers
Credit: USFWS.

NOTICES:

  • These photos should not be used for identification purposes.  Detailed information to assist with selected species identification problems can be found at Publications and Identifications Guides.
  • For more information about Protected Status, view our U.S. Wildlife Laws page.
  • You may download these photos for educational purposes with credit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), but cannot use them for commercial purposes or sell them.
  • Copyright © US Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory.

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