How to identify common feathers

Found a feather? Use this handy guide to identify which bird it belongs to.

Pheasant feather

                                                                                         Illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole


Pheasant feather (above) Phasianus colchicus

A pheasant’s breast feather is orange with a black tip and brown base. Easy to ID when seen with other pheasant feathers on roadkill.

Goldfinch feather


Goldfinch feather Carduelis carduelis

Goldfinch feathers show part of the yellow wing-bar on the secondary feathers, a white base and a white tip forming the wing’s white trailing edge.

Great spotted woodpecker feather


Great spotted woodpecker feather Dendrocopos major

Great spotted woodpecker feathers (both primaries and secondaries) are black with large white spots to the edges.

Green woodpecker feather


Green woodpecker feather Picus viridis

Green woodpecker secondary feathers have a ladder pattern with moss green bars on one side of the shaft and white bars on the other.

Jay feather


Jay feather Garrulus glandarius

Jay feathers feature unique sky-blue barring on one side of the shaft of secondaries and on the primary coverts.

Mallard feather


Mallard feather Anas platyrhynchos

The male mallard’s feathers from the speculum (the bright patch in the wings of most dabbling ducks) are partly purple or blue-green.

Woodcock feather


Woodcock feather Scolopax rusticola

Secondary woodcock feathers are strongly barred with a rufous ‘shark’s tooth’ pattern. Similar to pheasant feathers, but bars are incomplete.

Red-legged partridge feather


Red-legged partridge feather Alectoris rufa

Red-legged partridge feathers from the flank have a ginger tip above a white-bordered black band; it forms the ‘tiger stripes’ on the living bird.

Magpie feather


Magpie feather Pica pica

The classic magpie feather is long and narrow, with blue or green iridescence to the dark areas and variable amounts of white. These are the primaries.

Wood pigeon feather


Wood pigeon feather Columba palumbus

Wood pigeon tail feathers are long and rectangular with a broad, rounded end. Tip black, centre pale grey and base dark grey.

Tawny owl feather


Tawny owl feather Strix aluco

Primary tawny owl feathers are reddish-brown or brown with dark bands; as in all owls, edges are softly fringed for silent flight.

Buzzard feather


Buzzard feather Buteo buteo

A buzzard’s primary feathers are dark-ended with dark barring; the feather base is largely pale with a grey-brown wash on the upper half.