Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Feathers and another casting!

Over the past few weeks of watching the hawks in the Franklin Institute/Parkway/Art Museum area, I have picked up various feathers that I figured might be hawk heathers dropped either from preening or in flight. I took pictures of the feathers and sent the images to John Blakeman. It turned out that three of these feathers were indeed from red-tailed hawks. The others turned out to be turkey feathers (I wonder where they hang out downtown?!)

John sent back some fascinating commentary on the feathers that included the disquieting information that I had been breaking state and federal laws when I picked up these feathers:

"No one is permitted to so much as pick up one of these discarded or molted red-tail feathers and take them home, for any purpose. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed a century ago to stop the feather trade supplying decoration for women's hats, expressly prohibits the possession of any part of a protected species, which the red-tailed hawk now is.

Turkeys, a game bird, are not so protected, so you can possess those feathers. But if you inadvertently took home feathers 1, 3, or 6, discard them immediately. No can have! It's a state and federal law.

As a falconer, I'm allowed to possess the feathers that my falconry red-tail molts, but they can only be used to "imp" (replace) broken flight feathers. I'm not allowed to display these or use them for any other purpose."

-- John Blakeman

Since learning this dire information, any further feathers we found stayed right there and were photographed
in situ! John later relieved my guilt somewhat about the feathers I had taken home to photograph:

"You aren't the only person unaware of the protected status of most bird feathers. You might want to post the photos and my note on the matter. The Feds would take no offense. Taking photographs of the feathers is not illegal. Putting them in your pocket and taking them home would be. Actually, the wildlife authorities would welcome this public education effort helping to spread the word on the matter.

Here is John's run down on the feathers:

1A – A molted breast feather from a haggard. It's not from an eyass

3A – This is a left-wing secondary from a haggard. It grew just inside of the “elbow.” It was dropped during the molt, which is now continuing.

6A – This is REALLY interesting. This is an outer left tail feather of a red-tail hatched in the spring of 2008. It’s worn and was dropped now in the bird’s first molt, now being replaced with a red feather. This is not from this year’s eyasses, by any means. A wandering one-year old vagrant drifted in and deposited this feather.
This could mean that an immature red-tail may be flying around with all the resident family. Watchers will need to look for missing tail or wing feathers to identify this as a bird from last year. By now, a few new red tail feathers should be apparent in this bird (if it's still hanging around).

This one is a bit tougher to parse out. It's a red-tail feather, for sure. But I can't tell if it's from an adult (most likely), or did it drop off the one-year old interloper? Some of these brown feathers are almost identical in eyasses and haggards. Most likely, it's from one of the resident haggards. It's certainly not from any of the eyasses, as they aren't molting in their first summer. They will be doing that next summer. The feather looks to be a larger covert, a covering feather, from the top of the wing, probably over the first or inner wing segment.

This is a molted tail feather - or retrice - from one of the haggards. It's from the right side, probably close to the center. It's not an outer tail feather. Those molt later, and the feather shaft is a bit offset to the side with those, with a slight bend at the proximal end of the quill. If you see the bird soaring, you will clearly see the gap in the tail where the feather used to be. Where was this? [Carolyn found this at the Art Museum]. In most cases, the feathers are dropped or shed during morning preening. In most cases,but not always, the bird spent the night above the shed feather."

Our next exciting discovery was actually seeing an eyass eject a casting (hawk version of a hairball). The hawk was perched on a lamp pole along Spring Garden Street behind the Art Museum.
The casting fell to the sidewalk beneath the lamp pole. It is about 2" long and is definitely a candidate for the Gross Hall of Fame. I scraped it carefully into a paper cup and it is now sitting in a dry spot in my basement.

If you want to learn more about castings, check out the blog entry of July 10 entitled "Look what the hawks left on the roof!" It includes another graphic image of a casting!

John Blakeman comments that the casting "must have fallen from some distance as it fell apart on impact. You are allowed to possess these." [Phew!]

"A field biologist at The Franklin Institute (or elsewhere) could put it under a dissecting microscope and discern its composition. With a hand lens or magnifying glass you can determine if it's feathers or fur. A good lab ornithologist or mammalogist can figure the consumed animals. Pigeon feathers are pretty easy to ID. Others can be difficult. Separating the fur of the various mammals should be done by someone who is experienced."

--John Blakeman