goopy gold in fine feather displayed at 40% of viewport width
April 2019 by V. R. Duin


They skipped on down to the local pet store,
And picked a bird that squawked with a roar.
“Ack! Ack!” It squawked and loudly shrieked,
Puffed its feathers, snapped its beak.

Language is full of feathery expressions. In fine feather, a person may ruffle someone's feathers for trying to feather one's nest with some of them.

To feather one's nest means to do something for personal gain. Feathers are ceremoniously used in Native American headdresses and masks. They reflect honor, strength, bravery and glory.

To ruffle someone's feathers is to annoy or anger that person. Dolly may upset someone when she explains that it is illegal to collect some plumage. These laws continue to be broken in some places.

To be in fine feather is to be of good humor. Feathers are attractive to people. They have been widely used throughout the ages as fashionable adornments and home accessories. Indigenous tribes still use them.

Feathers are unique to birds and their ancestors. My fine-feathered friend entered wide use when Sylvester used this funny description for Elmer Fudd in Bugs Bunny cartoons. Feathers have no sense of feeling.

A feather in one's cap describes something of pride. Feathers offer protection. Down fillings insulate pillows and comforters. These are painfully and periodically plucked from live fowl raised for slaughter.

Males display feathers to lure females. They are not just used in flight. Feathers indicate avian sexes. They provide camouflage. They keep aquatic birds dry and protect other species from rain.

There is more to birds than plumage. Healthy birds keep their coats shiny through preening. Bird owners must spray, shower or bathe their pets. They also must trim their pets' beaks and nails, or have this work done.

Unhealthy, unclean, stressed or bored birds may mutilate or pluck feathers. Physical, nutritional or environmental problems may be behind these destructive behaviors. Self or co-plucking is prevalent in captive birds.

Feathers are reflective of health. Damaged feathers cannot repair themselves. Molting is protective and necessary to flight and survival. Birds shed dead quills to make way for new growth at least yearly.

To line one's pockets with avian style and comfort is risky. The decimation and endangerment of birds for human pleasure caught the attention of political and ethical environmentalists.

Strict laws were passed. In 1918, the MBTA was signed. The FWS enforces MBTA Policies and Regulations. The MBTA has Conventions with Canada, Russia, Mexico and Japan to protect migrating species.

The law was intended to stop the decimation of birds for hat feathers. The 1918 act made it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill migratory birds”. Strict limits were placed on hunting seasons, if allowed.

Crop farmers could not shoot marauding crows. These birds were protected. Hunters may have considered putting their decoys in storage. Ducks were on the list of protected migrating species.

The net expanded beyond illegal businesses dealings. An unintentional or accidental harmful act was punishable as a federal crime. Taking was interpreted as picking up a plume from one of these birds.

Killing was broadly interpreted to include the accidental death of birds. It punished owners of tar pits, plane propellers, oil tanks, windmills and windshields when birds were killed by flying into them.

The birds on these lists are making a comeback. Fashions have changed. Technology has advanced to produce realistic fake feathers that are socially and environmentally acceptable. These developments reined in prosecution.

Funds have been authorized in the United States for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation act through 2022. It provides habitat protection for more than 380 avian species. Eagles are protected in the U.S.

There are over a thousand species of protected migratory birds. These include many different species. There are about 10,000 different avian species in the world. Different locations protect different birds.

Current administrative MBTA policy is less strict. Gone are $15,000 fines and imprisonment of up to six months for accidental killing or maiming. It remains illegal to intentionally move nests, steal eggs or take carcasses.

Other laws and treaties, like the U.S. Endangered Species Act, protect endangered species. It is not illegal to take feathers from fowl that does not migrate, including bobwhites, pheasants, quails or turkeys.

Be careful, “my fine-feathered friends”. Feather identification is critical to staying out of jail. It is important to know the source. Some species may be not be captured, hunted or pursued.

Experienced birders often cannot identify a feather's source. The FWS Forensics Laboratory created a Feather Atlas for officers and the public to use in the identification of feathers.

A single plume may come with a fine. Birds remain free to build or line their nest-like structures with a rainbow of feathers. An intentional act to arrange some of them may find a guilty person doing hard time.

The feathers of song birds, marsh birds and birds of prey are protected. Birds can freely participate in the affirmative action of constructing nests with any array of plumes. They do not fall within the letter of the law.