Collecting Bird Feathers

I found some feathers on my nature walk yesterday.  Weretoad and I worked to identify the large feather, which I felt looked like it had belonged to a hawk, this morning.  After a lot of poking around, I believe that it came from a red tailed hawk.  Researching all of this made us aware that this bird is protected by something called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which makes it illegal to even possess the feathers of native song birds.  I had always known about this law in a vague sense.  I really only knew that it was illegal for anyone except a Native American to possess an eagle feather.  I had no idea that the law covered everything from gold finches, to blue jays, to crows.  According to everything I’ve read, if someone is found with a feather (some people put them in their cars, for example) there can be a “hefty fine” or even jail time.  This law is applicable in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

In my research, I came across this wonderful blog entry by the Adriondack Almanack.  It explains the law, but then explores the difficulty in having to tell a child who finds a feather that they have to put it back.  The comments are also interesting.  A lot of people agree that the law has a lot of holes in it.  For example, if Native Americans can legally possess certain feathers (the red tailed hawk feather I found, for example, is believed to be incredibly sacred by many tribes), why can’t Pagans keep certain feathers if there are spiritually sound reasons?  Someone devoted to the Morrigan, for example, would probably want if not need to have a raven feather around.

At first I shrugged and said, “Who’s going to know?”*  Then I thought more fully about it.  Yes, it is stupid that a person who innocently finds a molted feather could get in serious trouble for having it, but the reasons for the law are sound.  The poor birds got into trouble because people wanted to use their feathers in fashion.  An artist who innocently uses a found feather could inadvertently inspire hundreds of people to seek certain feathers.  One thing can lead to another and voila…  you have another horrible situation like this.

Now I realize some of you out there are shaking their heads and saying that I’m blowing it out of proportion.  I am, kind of.  I suppose.  I guess I just decided that if I’m going to value conservation the way I do, I have to follow the rules myself until someone changes them**.  I viewed the feathers I found as gifts from the nature spirits.  I don’t mean to decline them.  Instead, I’m going to accept them as a lesson in conservation, nature, and art.  I’ve not been feeling well today, but tomorrow I’m going to put the feathers back outside by my shrine after sketching them.  From now on, if I find a feather***, I will identify it, sketch it, and ceremoniously put it by my shrine to show respect and gratitude.

*I’m glad I looked more fully into this now.  I had an idea about making a blue-jay inspired bird and was hoping to use some feathers…  I’ll have to make fake feathers now.

** I don’t really have the interest in lobbying for such change.  I think Pagans should have the right to possess found feathers for sacred reasons, but I don’t feel the drive to pursue the change myself.  At the moment, I think we have bigger rights to fight for…

***…except for turkey feathers.  They’re exempt, as are the feathers of other game birds.  The trick will be identifying them!

( For My LJ Friends: )

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

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