What are the rules about having bird feathers in my possession? Can I pick up a goose feather from the Greenbelt?

Answered by Gregg Losinski, Regional Conservation Educator, Idaho Fish and Game

The simple answer to your question is “Yes!” If you see the feather fall from a Canada goose then it is okay to keep it. When it comes to collecting feathers the trick is not so much what is legal, as being sure what type of feather you really have, because not all feathers are created equal. When it comes to birds things get especially tricky because if we just happen to find a feather lying on the ground it is important to be able to identify what bird it really came from.

The reason it is important to know what bird lost the feather is that different birds have different laws protecting them and what you can do with even a feather, let alone the whole bird is a matter of law. In Idaho, the simple question to ask when you find a bird feather or even a whole dead bird is “Is this a bird that I could legally hunt?” If it is a hunted species or not protected, then you are okay to keep it. If it is illegal to hunt, like an owl, hawk, or eagle; then the answer is that you can’t keep any part of the bird, even a single feather.feathers1

In the case of waterfowl like ducks and Canada geese that call the Greenbelt home, they are really migratory birds that are covered by international treaties, even if they never leave the Greenbelt! But if they did leave the downtown during hunting season they could be harvested, so it is legal for you to keep their feathers. If a bird like a trumpeter swan stops to enjoy the Greenbelt and loses one of its beautiful feathers, it is technically illegal for you to keep the feather because it is a protected species we cannot hunt.

Feathers or even whole dead eagles are collected and sent to the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colorado to be cleaned and cataloged and given to Native Americans for use in ceremonies. The feathers of other protected birds are sent to the Liberty Wildlife Non-Eagle Feather Repository in Phoenix, Arizona.

So the important question to ask yourself when you pick up a feather is “Do I really know what type of bird this came from?” If you’re, not sure then let it be. Some other bird may come along and use it to feather their nest!

feathers2Feathers are very light. If you have a feather, use scissors to carefully cut through the central shaft of the feather, which is called the rachis. You will find that it is a hollow tube. But, if it is hollow, how can it also be strong enough to lift the weight of the bird?

You can see where the strength comes from by experimenting with a sheet of paper. When the paper is flat, it bends very easily, but let’s try rolling the paper into a tube.

Which is Stronger?

Materials: 8 pieces of paper, a ruler, tape, a bunch of books

  1. feathers4feathers3Roll a sheet of paper into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Tape the edge closed. Repeat 3 more times.
  2. Make a square column by folding the paper in half and then fold it into fourths. Use the tape to secure the edge. Repeat 3 more times.
  3. Stand the columns on end and start placing books on top of the them. Which columns are stronger–cylinder or square?

Even though they’re made out of exactly the same material, the hollow cylinders are lots stronger than hollow square columns. A column is only as strong as its weakest point, and square columns have four lines of weakness – the folds. Cylinders don’t have any folds, so they don’t have any points of weakness.

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