Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 54 comments

Feather 6722

Also on my July 9th visit to the southern part of Great Hills Park I found and photographed this feather. If anyone knows what kind of bird it’s from, please speak up. Although the photograph above might make it seem that pastel shades of brown and blue are the only colors in the feather, the enlargement that you can get to by clicking the thumbnail below shows that there are flecks of many other colors as well. I suspect those colors aren’t intrinsically there but are created by iridescence or other optical phenomena, as they are on butterflies’ wings, but I don’t know for sure.

Feather 6722 Detail


By the way, even if it looks like I used flash to take this picture, I didn’t.


UPDATE: I sent out a request to people in the know about birds to see if any of them could identify this feather. I got the following detailed (and initially humorous) reply from Chuck Sexton:

That’s a bit of a tough photo quiz.  I’m not used to looking at feathers this close up.  Please take the feather, walk 50 yards away, and I’ll stare at it through binocs!  😉

The shape of the feather suggests it is a body contour feather like a breast or belly feather.  The narrow brown or reddish barring suggests one of two species, both of which nest in Great Hills park:  Red-shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. These birds both have rufous-barred underparts.


I’m not sure I’ve heard Cooper’s in the park this summer although they’ve nested upstream near my yard about 2 out of 3 years in the past.  Red-shouldered on the other hand has been a regular noisy resident and that’s what I’d bet on.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2014 at 5:55 AM

54 Responses

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  1. No “ewwww’s” today. That’s gorgeous :).


    August 23, 2014 at 6:29 AM

  2. Alas, I do not know but it is very beautiful and I wouldn’t mind it in my cap, if I had one.


    August 23, 2014 at 6:47 AM

  3. I don’t know the ID of the bird but the lighting is lovely


    August 23, 2014 at 6:56 AM

  4. I’ve been collecting feathers too. I can identify most of them. Have no clue as to the origin of your image’s owner. Maybe you can get closer to identification through its size and coloring.


    August 23, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    • There are lots of birders in Austin, Sally, and I expect some of them could tell me what kind of bird this feather is from, but I haven’t asked any of them. Maybe I should. Okay, I just sent out a query to some local people to see if any of them can identify this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 9:19 AM

  5. Yes, I believe I read that the scales on some butterflies are prismatic, and that some bird’s feathers are as well. What a gift, how much beauty the camera can show us. It is so gorgeous, it could floor us!


    August 23, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    • When I took the picture, Melissa, I had no idea that there were colors beyond the obvious tan and pale blue. Only when I pulled up the full-size image on my monitor did the flecks of other colors become visible. I’m often thankful to technology because, unlike people like you who draw and paint, I can’t create anything visual without a camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 9:25 AM

  6. I rarely comment…but simply enjoy your luscious photography each day. However, …. the close up of the feather is too stunning not to comment…a microcosm of the color wheel.
    I wish I knew what kind of bird it is but my birding skills are modest at best… And have never studied feathers close up.
    Thank you for sharing such beauty with us.

    Martha Goudey

    August 23, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    • I like the way you put that, Martha: a microcosm of the color wheel.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m happy to share some of the many things I encounter in nature. We don’t have to go far from home to find little wonders.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 9:29 AM

  7. Ah, Steven, bird feathers! One of my many loves of the wonderful world of Mother Nature. I’ve just gone through my “go to” bird feather book — Bird Feathers by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland. It covers so many birds, but, alas, I do not see your wonderful find. It would help, as a previous commenter stated, to know the size of the feather. I’ll be watching and waiting to hear when you find out who shed this beauty.


    August 23, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    • I didn’t keep the feather, but my guess from memory (sometimes fallible) is that it might have been 8 inches long. Knowing that it’s from Austin should help a lot too. So far I haven’t heard back from anyone, but I’ll add an update if I get any new information.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM

  8. That’s a beauty!


    August 23, 2014 at 11:26 AM

  9. A wild guess would be hawk or owl, but it’s just a guess. I have a book up at our lake cabin that depicts nearly all the various feather varieties from different parts of the bodies of a considerable number of bird species. If I can make myself remember, I’ll see if I can find this one and let you know.


    August 23, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    • Okay, thanks. I just got an e-mail saying that some other people are checking references too. What a bout of research this one feather set off.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 2:12 PM

      • I just checked with my book on bird feathers and the closest match seems to be a red-shouldered hawk. I’ll try to send you a photo of the entry when I can shoot it by daylight tomorrow. No scanner up here at the lake.


        September 14, 2014 at 10:37 PM

  10. A feather without a bird or a bird without a feather which ever way goes is a gorgeous sample of something even more beautiful! Visually is a delightful shot and based on that I can say, birds are one of the best dressed species!


    August 23, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    • Yes indeed, birds are among the best dressed of animals. Now I’ll bet that you could work feathers, and perhaps also the iridescence shown in the enlargement, into some of your designs. Perhaps you already have.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 5:25 PM

      • I have actually incorporated feathers in one of my designs titled “Red Angels” in November 2012! Was a while ago, perhaps I should design again one with feathers, thanks for the inspiration!


        August 24, 2014 at 4:33 PM

  11. A Jay? Beautiful close up though.


    August 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    • The patterns fascinated me even though I didn’t know what kind of bird this came from. A local birder felt it was likely one of two hawks; you can see details in the update that I added to the end of the original post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2014 at 5:26 PM

      • Will take a look.


        August 23, 2014 at 5:38 PM

  12. Spectacular!

    Brian Comeau

    August 23, 2014 at 9:22 PM

  13. Just wonderful! I would have guessed a hawk straight off, from what I’ve seen… But I love the close-up. I adore the feathers! 😄


    August 24, 2014 at 1:43 AM

    • And I’ll bet that, like me, you hadn’t seen a closeup showing all those colors till now. Who’d have suspected? Why, you could have blown me over with a feather.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 7:40 AM

      • Hahah! 🙂 Have you tried to do a close-up of a blue-jay feather? That’s amazing… I rarely find them, but I have a few near my work desk, now. Of course, the kitties love them too, so they’re not exactly camera-ready.


        September 12, 2014 at 11:27 AM

        • No, I haven’t, but Austin counts blue jays among its inhabitants, so I’ll keep my eyes open for one of their feathers, and if I manage to photograph one I’ll let you know.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 12, 2014 at 11:42 AM

  14. […] If you check out yesterday’s post showing a feather, at the end of it you’ll see I’ve added suggestions about the identity of the bird that […]

  15. This really is interesting. Your magnificent photo makes the colors and the structure of the feather more accessible, but it also makes identification more difficult – at least for me. I haven’t a clue what kind of bird this belonged to, but the rounded tip and the presence of the fluffiness at the bottom of the shaft does suggest a feather from close to the body. I often find this sort of feather scattered around beneath trees during nesting season. Whether they’re from preening or nest construction, I haven’t a clue.

    I did learn that the fluffier feathers are called semi-plumes. And how about this, from the article?

    “The stiff, cylindrical, sharp-pointed “midrib” of that feather is known as the shaft, or rachis. The slender, parallel side branches arising from the shaft are barbs, and all the barbs considered collectively as one flat thing are known as the vane.” As in, “weather vane,” or the vanes on a windmill. Neat!


    August 25, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    • I’ll take “magnificent” any time. The word just reminded me of the educational film about our circulatory system that I vaguely recall from childhood, “Hemo the Magnificent.” I misremembered it as being by Walt Disney, but the linked article surprised me with its statement that the director was Frank Capra (he of “”Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “You Can’t Take It with You,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” among other movie greats).

      I knew about semi-consonants (like w and y) but not about semi-plumes. The term rachis is familiar from botany, where it analogously designates the midrib of a leaf. I think of a barb as more pointed and prickly than the side branches of a feather, but if that’s what zoologists want to use, who am I to quibble? And now in addition to a weather vane we can make a rhyme and talk about a feather vane. Neat indeed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 25, 2014 at 8:08 AM

  16. Wonderful colours and iridescence. This seems to be a common phenomenon in many birds, and not just the exotic ones.


    August 25, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    • It may well be a common phenomenon, as you say, and yet I’d never noticed it till I looked at this picture. That gives me reason to expect many more things are out there just waiting to be found.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 25, 2014 at 4:16 PM

  17. […] occurs to me now that this snail has a color scheme similar to the one in the feather you saw here last month. What the snail lacks in iridescence it makes up for with its […]

  18. I have read about bluebirds that the blue feathers aren’t really blue, but an effect of light (don’t know the proper name for this). It’s hard to believe this is true, and I haven’t yet spotted a bluebird feather to be able to confirm/deny, but you remind me with this feather to keep my eye out!

    Susan Scheid

    September 11, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    • Even if you had a bluebird feather, I don’t know how you’d decide whether the color comes from a pigment or from interference, refraction, or diffraction. I’m guessing you’d need a microscope, but I’m still not sure what to look for. Where’s a physicist when you need one?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 11, 2014 at 2:23 PM

  19. Just found this on the subject of blue feathers: http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/blue-birds-blue/. A basic, but it seemed to me useful, explanation. Thanks for the prompt to look into this!

    Susan Scheid

    September 11, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    • Ah, I hadn’t read your second comment when I replied to your first. Thanks for sleuthing and coming up with an article that explains what we wanted to know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 11, 2014 at 2:26 PM

  20. […] some recent posts have talked about backlighting, translucence, and iridescence, here you get all three at the same time. If you want a closer look at the spider that’s […]

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