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SCV Outdoor Report: Feathers Tell A Tale

By Wendy Langhans

This red tailed hawk displays blunt ended tail feathers and tapered wing feathers. Provided by: Lilian Darling Holt

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.


This contour feather has fuzzy down near the base of the shaft. It comes from a mallard duck. Provided by: Wendy Langhans

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


And The Cornell Lab of Ornithology




You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For our complete hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to

To see what's playing on radio station KHTS, go to tune in to AM 1220.

SCV Outdoor Report: Feathers Tell A Tale

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