Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two kinds of feathers

with 30 comments

At Raab Park in Round Rock on August 18th I noticed quite a bunch of small feathers on the ground that seemed to tell the story of a bird having met its demise there. Because the feathers were so small and light, a few of them had gotten caught on nearby plants, including the firewheel seed head (Gaillardia pulchella) above and the camphorweed seed head (Heterotheca subaxillaris) below.

Eventually I noticed a much larger feather near by, which I picked up and photographed. I began to wonder if it came from a raptor that had killed the bird that all the small feathers belonged to. If an avian maven among you can shed light on these feathers, please fly to our rescue.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2020 at 4:39 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

30 Responses

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  1. A seed head feeling a bit fuzzy-headed.

    Robert Parker

    September 18, 2020 at 6:28 AM

  2. The Feather looks like a Harris Hawk Female. Cool find!


    September 18, 2020 at 8:58 AM

    • Thanks for letting us know. A hawk would accord with all those little feathers on the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 9:09 AM

  3. Wow, there was indeed an avian expert who came to the rescue! The ignoramus from Canada just enjoyed your pictures.

    Peter Klopp

    September 18, 2020 at 9:14 AM

    • Like the one in Texas. I’ll always be much better at taking pictures than identifying subjects.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 1:58 PM

  4. Three gorgeous beauties. Lovely to look through your lens and wonder and learn more about nature, Steve. It seems like “with every walk in nature you receive more than you seek” because you’re a very observant photographer.


    September 18, 2020 at 11:57 AM

  5. I love those first two photos – great angles. Did you know there’s a feather atlas for identifying feathers? I think there’s an app, too – sure, there’s an app for everything. I took a quick look – I don’t know for sure the size of your feather but I came up with a White-winged dove. That could have been the meal. The predator may have escaped unharmed. 😉


    September 18, 2020 at 2:21 PM

    • I’d never heard about the feather atlas, so thanks for the link to it. I noticed on that page the words “Dove tail feathers,” which made me think of how one thing can dovetail into another.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 2:43 PM

  6. Beautiful photos, Steve. While I like the clarity of the first and third amidst that clear blue, I think the second photo most appeals to me. How many times have I seen a fluffy, usually small feather attached to a stick or branch. You captured that so well.


    September 18, 2020 at 4:32 PM

    • Originally the post included only the brown-themed picture that appeals to you, which struck me (and still does) as a Rembrandtesque portrait. Because I’ve taken more pictures in 2020 than in any previous year, I’ve added a second or even third picture to some recent posts just so that the images get out into the world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 5:52 PM

  7. I found a similar scene today in a shorn corn field. Migrating Canada geese often stop overnight in these fields to glean fallen corn. A couple look like they fed the local coyote pack, lots of scat around to name the predator.

    Eliza Waters

    September 18, 2020 at 8:50 PM

    • It’s good you were able to figure out what that the predator and prey were in that case. I like the sound of “shorn corn.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 9:31 PM

  8. I have seen many similar feather combinations and have always assumed a predator was at work.

    Michael Scandling

    September 18, 2020 at 8:55 PM

  9. Like attracts like. I can’t help with the feather. I’ve been noticing this year how some flowers seem less keen than others to release their seeds. Thistles really cling on.


    September 19, 2020 at 6:34 AM

    • Do you have a hypothesis about why some flowers in your area seem more clingy than usual with their seeds this year?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 19, 2020 at 7:28 AM

  10. I agree that the feather in the last image is a female Harris’s hawk. My go-to source is https://www.fws.gov/lab/ and go to the “Feather Atlas”. The photos of various feathers are very helpful in identification.

    It’s interesting how weathered feathers in nature often go airborne, catching on a plant to become soft and fuzzy, dancing in the wind. Yet others remain on the ground, creating their own beauty. We see feathers scattered here a lot, and the predator scat nearby. The slough seems to be an area where waterfowl are attacked by coyotes in the night. On some of my daily drives to fetch eats for the fawns, I often note remnants of the latest kills along the mowed path. The gentle doves are most often the victims.


    September 19, 2020 at 7:05 AM

    • I see the usefulness of The Feather Atlas, which you’re now the second commenter to recommend. In looking at it I learned the term rectrix, which is ‘one of the stiff main feathers of a bird’s tail, used to stabilize the bird while in flight and to control its direction.’ I recognize the word as the feminine form of Latin rector. Given that you find a lot of feathers scattered on your property, have you considered doing a post about them? The feathers and the theme are there for the taking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 19, 2020 at 7:41 AM

  11. When I find a small explosion of feathers on the ground, it’s usually a dove that’s met its demise. Because they’re ground feeders, and because they often are looking down as they wander through the grass, they make easy pickings for a raptor scanning from the air.

    I especially like the details in the second photo. The smallest, fluffy feathers often are seen as only bits of fluff. You’ve done an excellent job of showing the details in this one: the points of attachment, and so on.


    September 21, 2020 at 10:15 AM

    • What you say about doves at risk of being preyed upon from above makes sense. Regarding the second picture, it’s the one that interested me the most. You probably noticed in a reply to another comment that I called it Rembrandtesque, which is still how it strikes me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 21, 2020 at 10:24 AM

  12. […] drummondii, whose feathery strands you see above. (You may remember that I also made portraits of some actual feathers there.) Near the end of my stay I noticed a little group of low plants I wasn’t familiar with. I […]

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