Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Owl feather

with 19 comments

As I began heading back from the farthest point on my April 17th outing under the power lines west of Morado Circle, I noticed a feather on the ground. Picking it up, I held it in front of me and took pictures of it in several positions. Chuck Sexton, a local expert on birds, says the feather is likely from the right wing of a great horned owl, Bubo virginianus. That’s the same species you caught a glimpse of, and only a glimpse of, in a recent post. Here’s a closer look at one part of the feather:

This feather proved to be the first of maybe half a dozen I found scattered at intervals along the trail. Seems likely the owl met its demise near by.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 3, 2018 at 5:00 AM

19 Responses

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  1. Nice crisp macro. We find barred owl feathers frequently; he’s a yard bird for us. I should endeavor to shoot one.

    From what I understand, they gained stealthiness as they lost rain protection .. evolutionarily gave up waterproofing for silent flight. Their feathers are very different from other avian species. Here’s an interesting article:


    May 3, 2018 at 7:41 AM

    • Just call me Mr. Crisp. (There used to be a British actor named Donald Crisp.)

      The linked article is indeed interesting. I’m always pleased when research supports more than one explanation for a phenomenon. People are often too insistent that one and only one explanation—their own, of course—is the right one.

      Do see if you can get some good portraits of a barred owl.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2018 at 9:06 AM

  2. I came to a complete stop when I read that “the feather is likely from the right wing of a great horned owl.” Being able to identify it as an owl feather is one thing. Even knowing it’s a wing feather is reasonable. But knowing it’s from the right wing? That’s an expert.

    I actually managed the one-handed hold and shoot technique for the first time last weekend. I wanted a view of the inside of a Clematis pitcheri , and the only flower that wasn’t bedraggled was blooming about two inches above the ground. Short of digging a hole, holding it was the only solution. The results weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good.


    May 3, 2018 at 7:49 AM

    • The right-versus-left distinction impressed me, too. My guess is that it has to do with the asymmetry of the feather relative to the rachis, with one edge leading and the other trailing.

      Good to hear you’re making progress with the one-handed hold-and-shoot technique. I would also have opted not to dig a hole to photograph that Clematis pitcheri. The energy you saved by not digging can go toward perfecting your technique.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2018 at 9:15 AM

  3. I was struck by the detailed identification of the feather, too, but then I found this amazing identification of feathers used in Maori cloaks https://youtu.be/beIqYq2An4k


    May 3, 2018 at 9:08 AM

    • And my local identifier was going from the picture alone, rather than from being able to examine the feather.

      The woman in your video mentioned that dozens of birds of a given species were used to make a single cloak. I wonder whether such heavy usage contributed to the extinction of some species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2018 at 9:26 AM

      • Perhaps it did but in the case of the huia it was mostly the Pakeha obsession with collecting the bird which contributed to its distinction. https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/huia-the-sacred-bird/


        May 3, 2018 at 5:54 PM

        • The fashion in Western culture for bird feathers in ladies’ hats early in the 20th century led to the killing of huge numbers of birds. Some species were at greater risk than others. According to the article you linked to, habitat loss was also a big factor in the huia’s extinction. I hadn’t heard of the huia till now.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 3, 2018 at 6:12 PM

  4. I hope you’ve got a nice Tyrolean or Robin Hood hat to wear this on!

    Robert Parker

    May 3, 2018 at 9:59 AM

    • Neither one, I’m afraid. That’s a moot point because I didn’t even bring the feather back with me. It will live on in these photographs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2018 at 10:08 AM

      • Well, perhaps a fletcher for a left-handed archer will come by.

        Robert Parker

        May 3, 2018 at 10:11 AM

        • I think the only specific fletcher I’ve heard tell of is the Fletcher Christian who was involved in the mutiny on the Bounty. As for an archer, there’s the Newland Archer of The Age of Innocence.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 3, 2018 at 12:49 PM

  5. I rarely see owls, but I often find their feathers; as if they are leaving me notes to remind me that they work hard to control the rodents while I sleep. I hear them in the evening, both screech and hoot owls, and something in between, but they are otherwise elusive. The biggest owl I ever saw was in Mid City Los Angeles. It was quiet and white, with a very wide wing span. I think it was looking for feral kittens.


    May 6, 2018 at 5:50 PM

    • It’s imaginative of you to think of dropped owl feathers as reminders of rodent control. Like you, I don’t often see owls themselves, but when I do it’s a rare opportunity for a picture.

      Do you know what kind of owl the large one in Los Angeles was?

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2018 at 6:02 PM

      • I just call him ‘Earl’ because he is so handsome, although intimidating and potentially downright scary when one does not expect to encounter him; but I have no idea of what species he is, or even if he is a he. He never stopped long enough for me to ask. Earl looks something like another owl that we refer to as a ‘barn owl’ who lives in a steeple in Felton, but he is significantly larger and whiter. I thought that he looked completely white on the underside. Brent says that he is more light gray than white. The face is the same color. In fact, he seems to be remarkably white. When I tried to find an owl that resembled Earl online, I only found those who live in snowy climates. If Earl is from a snowy region, or even if he is from the desert mountains around Los Angeles, he is a long way from home. He is the only one of his kind I have ever seen in Southern California. The owls that are common in Beverly Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains resemble the small brown owls that are common here, and are notably absent from Brent’s neighborhood.


        May 6, 2018 at 6:22 PM

        • If you can get a picture of your unidentified owl, there must be local birders who can tell you what kind of owl it is.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 6, 2018 at 8:46 PM

          • It is very unlikely that I would ever get a picture of Earl. I am about 350 miles away, and have no plants to go there until January. Sightings are very rare, and very brief. However, as rare as they are, it is weird that I have seen him during two consecutive trips to the area. (I was not there at night the last two times, but saw him twice before that, and had seen him before. . . . Now that I think of it, I am there less than anyone, but have seen Earl more than anyone.)


            May 6, 2018 at 9:34 PM

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