With so many birds on Seabrook Island you expect to find an occasional feather in your yard or on your walks. Identifying a single feather can be tricky. When we look at a bird we are looking at the sum of all its feather parts. Compare it to jigsaw puzzles. If several puzzles were tossed together it would be difficult to pick one puzzle piece and identify to which puzzle it belonged.
There are several resources you might try if you are interested in identifying a feather. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website (fws.org) has “The Feather Atlas.” This section includes a tool to identify feathers. Much like the Merlin app that is used to identify birds, this tool asks for you to supply certain criteria about the feather and it will list suggestions with photos of birds that meet that criteria. With their extensive database and your knowledge of local birds, your chance of successfully identifying the feather with the Feather Atlas is pretty good.
Your mobile phone’s camera can also help identify your feather. If you have the Google app downloaded on your phone, you have access to Google Lens. Check to the right of the search bar and you should see a small icon that looks slightly like a camera just next to the microphone. Click on that icon and the Google Lens camera will come up. If you take a picture of something using that camera Google will bring up similar images with descriptions from the Google database. On a personal note, I have had great success using Google Lens to identify flowers, plants, bugs, butterflies, and sometimes feathers. However, I have occasionally taken a photo of a feather and it has matched my feather photo to photos of animal print shoes or Etsy items decorated with feather images. This could, however, be the fault of the photographer.
A free mobile phone app that is strictly used for identifying images in nature is iNaturalist. This app is structured like a social network where contributions from naturalists, scientists, and those who are merely curious have created a quality database of all things in nature. When you take a photo using this app it will, like Google Lens, provide you with similar images that have been identified. The first suggestion is generally the closest match to your image. If you are confident that you have correctly identified the subject of your photo, you can identify it, share it, and become a database contributor.
When Diane and Andy Allen were left an interesting feather on their mailbox by a friend, they asked Nancy Brown if she might be able to identify the bird. By using the iNaturalist app and Google Lens, Nancy was confident that what they had was a Wild Turkey feather. It is always more satisfying when you can put a name to what you find in nature and using these recognition tools make it easier.
One important reminder – Feathers are protected. If you find a feather, study it, photograph it, appreciate it, but leave it where you found it. Under federal law it is illegal to take them home.