Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Terrific Twitter Time : Bird Detective

It's time for another installment of 
Terrific Twitter Time! 

Mrs. Katz found an unusual bird feather on the ground and left it by our door. She knows how much we love nature. She also knows we love to discover unknowns. The detective work started immediately. 

What kind of bird feather is this?

STEP 1: Shoot a picture. We included a ruler in the photo because the length of the feather would be an important piece of information. 

Photo by Mrs. Yollis 

STEP 2: Tweet out the photo to Mrs. Yollis' PLN (Personal Learning Network.) Twitter can put you in touch with people who know! 

What hashtags did we use and why? 

Why did we ask people to RT (retweet) our tweet?

STEP 3:  Read through the tweets and follow the useful links. 

We heard from Jozi in South Africa. The Audubon Society is a great resource for bird facts. Great idea! 

Ms. Felton from Iowa guessed that it was a pheasant feather. 

Mr. Terpsma, from California, teaches fifth grade. His student had a guess.

After learning where we are located, Ms. Harbeck from Maryland, guessed that it was a red-tailed hawk feather. That is a very common bird in our southern California area.

Ms. Wagner, from southern California, thought it was an owl.

Ms. Bates, from North Carolina, mentioned this Feather Atlas of the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

This Feather Atlas of the Fish and Wildlife Service  was new to us and to one of our Twitter helpers! It's fun to learn together!

We have not drawn a conclusion yet. 

What kind of feather do you think this is and why? 

What resources did you use to come to your conclusion


  1. I am going to have to know the answer to this question when you settle on the feathers origin.
    I have lived in the midwest my entire life and my father is an avid hunter. The feather looks so similar to the pheasant feathers that he used to give us when we were kids. We teased our cat for hours and hours those feathers.

  2. Dear Mrs. Yollis,

    The feather is from a barn owl. It's a wing feather from the left. The Navaho Indians believed the barn owl was a bad omen. My Grandmother and I say that they were superstitious.

    Happy Searching,

  3. What a great detective work you have been doing! I also love finding feathers. I took two of the suggestions presented by people already; Charity's suggestion of a red-tailed hawk and Jen's suggestion of using the website and put them together. This is what I found
    It looks pretty similar to me. Let me know if you find out the answer!

  4. Hello Mrs. Yollis and class,

    I have been working through a backlog of tweets and blog links and came to this one. I missed the tweet but was interested in the feather.

    Not knowing a great detail about birds of America and their feathers, I did a little search and see Samantha Neumeyer found the same source, i.e. The Feather Atlas from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I am not aware of anything similar in Australia and rely on my bird identification books here.


    I can see you thought to show the size of the feather using a ruler. This is a great idea as feather size helps rule out many birds. I can see there would need to be other information if we were to identify a bird...

    Where was the feather found? (location can narrow the bird choice to those known to be in an area)
    What season of year was it found? (Migratory birds visit many areas around the world at certain times of the year)

    I also thought of some information making the identification harder...
    Each bird species has more than one type of feather. (e.g. tail, flight, semiplume, filoplume, bristle and downy)
    Male and female birds can have different looking feathers. Male parrots around my home can be very colourful and female much less so.
    Young birds in a species can have different feathers to adults. The black swan is known for its black feathers yet the cygnets have more downy white feathers.

    What I can see from your feather…
    The feather looks like a flight feather from a wing or tail.
    The bird wasn’t small so it rules out birds like robins.
    The feather appears to be a paler brown with dark brown to black stripes.
    I would guess it was found somewhere near your school so it would be a species found in California.

    What I might guess…
    I suspect it could be some sort of bird of prey because it is similar to some feathers from hawks, falcons or owls I have seen in Australia but this is really only a guess.
    I like Ms. Harbeck’s suggestion of a red-tailed hawk because it is common in your area. When I looked at different photos of red-tailed hawk feathers on The Feather Atlas, I noticed the darker stripes in your photo were wider than the red-tailed hawk but that could be differences between individuals. Their feathers are a close match in length to your feather.
    The goshawk (northern goshawk?) suggested by Keith Terpsma’s Year 5 does have wider darker bands similar to those in your photo but it seems not to be widespread in California and prefers further north.
    Ms. Wagner’s suggestion of an owl could be correct but The Feather Atlas lists 17 species. I had a look at the feathers from each species and didn’t see a close match.
    Ms. Felton suggested a pheasant feather. Pheasant tail feathers can be quite long and thin. It could be but I don’t know whether there are wild pheasants in your area. We don’t have any native pheasants near my home.

    Given what you have seen suggested, I would guess it is a feather from the red-tailed hawk. The feathers can be about the size of the feather you have and do have a striped pattern. They are also common in your area.
    Remember, this was a guess based on my research and could be completely wrong but it’s the best I can do. I am not an expert in ornithology (study of birds).

    I think you can see from the tweets you received, one feather can have more than one possibility unless you have an expert on hand but I do know one way we can be more certain. We would need to do some DNA testing but that would be expensive. What is important is to ask the question and try to learn.

    It’s our learning journey through life that’s important and a bonus if we find interesting answers along the way.

    Ross Mannell
    Teacher (retired), N.S.W., Australia


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