I pay special attention to the legal requirements of possessing feathers since I sell feather art. Many people tell me about their small feather collections so I thought I’d share a rough guide to what feathers you can have in the USA.
You can have:
Feathers from most birds that are not native to North America. European Starlings, House Sparrows, Eurasian Collared Doves, and Ring-neck Pheasants are not native to North America. Also, think feathers of peacocks, many parrots, most of the 55 species of pheasants, and small songbirds like zebra finches that are kept in cages. The biggest exceptions to this are the restrictions on having feathers of most birds that live outside North America that are critically endangered1,3.
Feathers from most wild duck and geese you can’t sell, except for mallards. You can sell other kinds of duck feathers if it is for fly tying for fishing.
Upland birds that people hunt—like turkey, grouse, and pheasant. Each state can have more restrictive laws, like in Washington State the Sharp-tailed Grouse is threatened so you can’t have those feathers unless you show it came from another state where hunting is permitted.
You can’t have:
Feathers from almost all other birds in my country—not eagles of course, but also not seagull feathers, songbird feathers, or crow feathers2.
Feathers from many birds from other countries that are critically endangered3.
Though all birds naturally shed their feathers about once a year, you’re not legally supposed to have most of them. A law called the (U.S.) North American Migratory Bird Act was made a long time ago when people were killing too many birds to use for fashionable hats. It’s a broad-brush law intended to protect birds. It doesn’t recognize the difference between plucked feathers, shed feathers, or bird skins; you can’t have any of it. If a feather was pulled from a dead bird that you found at the side of the road or the beach, how does someone know that the bird wasn’t killed on purpose just for the feathers? It can sometimes seem silly but it is a matter of reasonable enforcement, like speeding law enforcement on the highway.
I try to be familiar with the laws but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the place to go to for the final word in the USA. Here are some links to their sites plus another helpful link:
1 The American Federation of Aviculture’s website has a discussion of when you can have feathers from parrots from other countries that are critically endangered in those countries but because they are commonly kept in aviaries in the USA, it is ok to have their feathers in the USA.
2 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the place to go for the final word on the Migratory Bird Act. The law is explained and they have an alphabetically arranged list of protected birds.
Rachel’s Swallow Circle or Every Year, Feathers Shed Their Birds . 16×16 . 2016 . Chris Maynard
A focus on feathers offers a different way of looking at birds. Feathers are meant to function best on birds but each individual feather is a bit of perfection in itself. What if the function of the bird’s existence is to produce these perfect feathers? The bird would mate, lay eggs, and raise baby birds so they can continue making feathers. Then the feathers would shed their birds once a year.
Nelly Saunier creates wonders as a plumassier in Paris. A plumassier is a person who deals or works with feathers. Her creativity shows brightly in her feather art, art installations, collaborations, fashion, jewelry, and what caught my attention first, her recent micro-feather work on the faces of watches. It is worth spending some time clicking around her website.
I am always interested in other artists who work with feathers and have several other artists in mind to feature in this blog later this year.
As my garden grows with more abundance than I can use, so does my creativity. Apples on the ground, baseball bat-sized zucchini thrown into the compost; more lettuce, beets, figs, kale, chard, and tomatoes than I make time to harvest and use.
Producing creative ideas for new pieces is like that for me. I feel blessed with abundance and yet I am able to gather only portion of the opportunities, making them into art. Is it a waste perhaps like the garden produce? Or, like the unused fruit and vegetables that go back into the soil to nourish next year’s plants, do unused creative ideas somehow nourish future creativity?
In the stop motion video, you can see the progression of placement and cuts. For me, what really stands out is how the feathers and the cutout birds pop out at the end when they are elevated. The shadows give the work an added dimension.
A big piece like this usually comes after making several smaller pieces where the design concepts are tested. It took a while to collect enough of the right feathers—these are all from the right side of the wing of molluccan cockatoos. Some were shed from a pet bird over several years and some shed in a nonprofit rehabilitation sanctuary for parrots.
I often show a playful element in my work. Playfulness allows me to learn new things and skills without being too tense, like the second brood of swallows today that were just off the nest learning to fly. I watched these young ones playing with a feather, catching it in their beaks, dropping it, and picking it up again and again. I bet they were enjoying improving their flying and bug catching skills.
I don’t care if its rainy weather just as long as I have my holey feather riding on the dashboard of my car. ♪♪
This all seeing cyclops feather just travelled from Washington State to New Mexico and back. Having it with me reminded me of how I have chosen to see the world, through my focus on feathers. Perhaps it also brought luck as the Santa Fe show was a success and I am invited back next year. Now I am told that having a rearview mirror adornment is illegal if it blocks the driver’s view of the road.
♪ I don’t care if its rainy weather just as long as I have my holey feather riding on the dashboard of my car. ♪
This all seeing cyclops feather just travelled with me from Washington State to New Mexico and back. Having it reminded me of how I have chosen to see the world, through a focus on feathers. Perhaps it also brought me luck as the Santa Fe show was a success and I am invited back next year.
Now I am told that having a rearview mirror adornment is illegal if it blocks the driver’s view of the road.
Part of what makes making art rewarding is exploring new creative ideas. But people see the art I have already made and often want something like it, the original having already been sold.
This can create a quandary for the artist because if we fall completely into producing similar pieces to satisfy demand, we lose our time to create new works. So we strive to find a balance between producing a lot of similar work with producing only completely new creative original work.
Fortunately for me, I enjoy the process of making each piece and therefore am satisfied making a few originals based on previous designs, like “Harken”. However, exploring new creative territory remains extremely important so at least a day or two a week, if not more, I work on completely new design ideas.
Morning Crow 11 x 11 inches
If you find yourself in Santa Fe before July 23, stop in at the Gerald Peters Gallery to see my show. You will see “Harken” in person. It is sold but I am sending the gallery several more pieces about the same size based on this design. Here is one:
I sometimes work with snakeskin in my art as well as feathers. What is the relation of these outer coverings: human skin, snake skin, and feathers?
Unlike birds that sheds its feathers about once a year, or a snake that sheds its outer skin about three times a year, we shed our outer skin constantly. About .2 pounds a week. Our shed skin doesn’t look like our outer wrappings like shed snake skins do nor does it appear as beautifully complex structures like feathers. Our shed skin doesn’t end up in art. It gathers as dust in our houses.
What if instead of shedding constantly, we shed our outer layer intact like a snake? Would we have molting days built into our work schedule as days off? Would we keep our sheds as souvenirs like locks of hair? Would we use our skin in art?
I may make a piece using feathers, snake skin, and a background of dead human skin cells gathered as dust. I could mix the dust with a light water based glue like clear acrylic and paint it on paper as a background. But although I find shed snakeskin fascinating, I am slightly revolted seeing human dust when I wipe my finger across the top of a picture frame or look under the couch.