I’ve been a lawbreaker. You probably have too. Every little kid who ever picked up a gull feather at the beach, every hiker with a blue jay plume in his hat — criminals all. With very few exceptions, it’s against the law to possess wild bird feathers. I knew that strictly it’s illegal to keep feathers but I hadn’t realized how stringent the law really is. Technically even game bird feathers can’t be picked up. You can only have them if you get them from a hunter!
That law was running through my mind when I found these feathers at Vischer Ferry in the fall. There seemed to be the full set of primaries and secondaries from the left wing of a large bird, possibly a raptor. So instead of bringing them home I photographed them in place, then checked a reference when I got home. The Feather Atlas is a comprehensive archive of North American bird plumage. After some searching I decided they belonged to a Barred Owl. But how did a whole wing-worth of feathers get pulled out?
There were only torn-out feathers on the ground, no sign of blood or body parts. I wonder if the owl dropped onto its prey, and in a moment of distraction was caught by the wing by a fox or coyote who pulled out a mouthful of feathers, then carried off the bird.
A tuft of downy body feathers under my feeders tells another story, one of feral barn cats and of the danger of accepting a handout. These look like Common Redpoll to me.
I’ve seen a few Redpolls with swollen eyes and puffed-out plumage. I hope it was one of those sick ones the cat got. I’m considering renting a yappy and energetic terrier to scare the cats back to the barn.