goopy gold in fine feather
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, Dolly the Parrot 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 headdresses and masks. They reflect honor 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 “feather one's nest” with some of them.

To be in “fine feather” is to be of good humor. Feathers are attractive to people. They have been widely used as fashionable adornments and accessories.

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. They indicate the sex of birds.

“A feather in one's cap” describes something about which to be proud. Feathers offer protection. Feather fillings are used to insulate pillows and comforters. Male birds display feathers to lure females.

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

To “feather one's nest” with a fine feather from migrating birds is risky. The decimation and endangerment of birds for human pleasure caught the attention of environmentalists.

Strict laws were passed. The policies of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are enforced and published by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The laws were intended to arrest poachers. The 1918 act made it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill migratory birds”. Strict limits were placed on hunting seasons for these birds, if allowed.

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

The net expanded beyond illegal businesses dealing feathers. An unintentional or accidental harmful act was punishable as a federal crime. “Taking” was interpreted as a single feather 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 fake feathers that are perceived as the real thing. 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 bird species. Eagles are protected in the U.S.

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

Administrative policy was lightened. Gone are $15,000 fines and imprisonment of up to six months for accidental killing or maiming. It is illegal to intentionally move nests, steal eggs or take carcasses.

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

Be careful, “my fine-feathered friend”. Feather identification is critical to staying out of jail. It is important to know the source. Some birds 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 feather 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 make an array of some of them may find a guilty person doing hard time.

The feathers of song birds, marsh birds and birds of prey are protected. Some birds won't “ruffle someone's feathers” by participating in the affirmative action of constructing nests with feathers.