I dream of taking a trip back through the eons that birds have been on the earth to see all the different shapes and forms and colors of the feathers that have come and gone. Some birds probably just slowly changed over generations to something better adapted to their surroundings while other species just perished. It would be a journey to see the continuation of the dance of life on earth.
How do humans fit into the world today—from the perspective of feathers? The male peacock’s display feathers evolved to be so long and ornate that they place the bird at the edge of the ability to survive. The peacock’s tail limits its movements so much that a little more tail would keep it from escaping predators. We are impressively clever, active, and striving creatures. It seems like we keep getting more so. Our inherent ability to invent and build appears to place us at the edge of our ability to continue to thrive and maybe survive. What if through our inventiveness, as we grow in numbers, change our surroundings to suit our immediate needs, and reduce the ability of the earth to support us, we are evolving beyond our capacity to inhabit the earth?
Try taking two flight feathers from the same side of a bird’s wing and put the front, leading edge parallel and over the trailing next feather, like it was on a bird. The pull them gently and you can feel the feathers grab. If you put the leading edge of a feather underneath trailing edge of its neighboring feather instead of on top, there will be no grabbing; they will just glide smoothly over each other.
These feathers stick together in at least three ways to help make the wing smooth and aerodynamic:
1. The leading edges of the feathers let a small amount of air through as the bird flies, a little more air than comes through the trailing edges. This evens the pressures caused by moving air which would otherwise tend to pull feathers away from the smooth airfoil a wing is supposed to make for a bird to fly
2. The leading edge of each feather curves slightly down and the trailing edge faces slightly up. So when two flight feathers on a wing overlap, the leading edge grabs trailing edge of the next flight feather.
3. The almost microscopic barbules on the leading and trailing edges of each flight feather sort of splay out which help to grab onto the next feather, further creating more of a seal so the feathers stick together firmly in the wind.
Reference: Muller, V. and Patone (1998) Air Transmissivity of Feathers. Journal of Experimental Biology 201, 2591-2599
Someone is killing wild Great Argus Pheasants in SE Asia and selling their feathers on Ebay. It is making me sad as these pheasants are one of my favorite birds. Partly why I use feathers in my art is because they are freely given by birds. These pheasants shed their feathers every year where they are kept in zoos and private aviaries. I want people to appreciating life through my photography and art, not kill it; and especially not buy feathers from birds that were killed for their feathers.
Can taking pictures of beautiful birds and feathers or making art from them urge someone to buy feathers from birds that were killed for their feathers? I hope not. But it is a thought that bothers me and several wildlife photographers I have spoken to. I did report this auction to Ebay and federal authorities.
Feather shapes and sizes are quite limited. How does one arrange a typically large, long and skinny feather into a wider picture? Many of my pieces center on a single cut feather. In order to create a pleasing, unified, creative design that tells a story or conveys a feeling, there has to be more to the design than just the single feather. That is, unless the final picture is long and skinny. I prefer not to do that.
I have placed feathers drifting off a preening bird image to fill the space. Sometimes I add small feathers to balance a picture as with a cut-feather silhouette of a bird singing with feathers coming out of its mouth. Using two or more large cut feathers has sometimes solved the dilemma.
Working feathers into unified designs is all part of a vexing but rewarding process of creation. Sometimes I wish wild birds would grow big wide, wide feathers to make this process easier. But that wouldn’t help the birds very much would it?
I am not the only one who appreciates a fallen, shed feather that I find on the ground. I came across this ant who came across this feather on a windy day. I am not sure why the ant appreciates the feather, but it does and is able to something about it, a testament to its strength and the feather’s lightness. Good luck, Ms Ant.
I made a humbling discovery that I am not the only one who has a passion for showing off feathers in unsuccessful attempts to enhance already perfect natural beauty.
The red-breasted sapsucker drills neat rows of holes in various trees and feeds on the sap. It maintains the holes so the sap keeps flowing. Luckily for the Anna’s hummingbird, this sap (which is a tree nectar) is available to slurp when flowers are out of season in the Northwestern USA winter.
Both of these sap-loving birds show striking splashes of red feathers. The hummingbird displays metallic red on its throat, and the sapsucker presents a bright red head and breast.
Shaking sparkling drops shimmer in the sun. A jay needs its bath just like you and me. A good bath and shaking will loosen dust, dislodge mites, shake off dander, remove loose feathers, de-oil, and clean messes. In a pinch, a dust bath will do. But bathing is just a start. When done with the bath, the jay flies to a safe perch and preens for an hour, finishing for the moment, the never-ending task of keeping its feathers in impeccable shape.
I have rediscovered the artist, Charlie Harper. In his art, he reduced the complexity of animal shapes into their essences in geometrical forms. He also had a fondness for and understanding of the natural world which he captured, often with a sense of humor. Charlie Harper’s piece, Owltercation (in addition to watching three crows chase an owl out of the tall fir tree near where I live) inspired me to design this feather shadowbox I call, Owl for One and One for Owl.
Like the eagle in the United States, the blue peacock is the national bird of India. It follows then, that like the USA, India also made killing peacocks illegal. In the USA, you cannot have feathers from their national bird. But in India, you can have peacock feathers but only if they are naturally shed. To find out if a feather is naturally shed or if it was plucked from the skin of a bird, authorities simple place the shaft under a fairly low magnification to examine the base of the shaft. They also use their technology to perform a simple chemical test.