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Should you keep a feather you find?

Should you keep a feather you find?

Finding a feather while out walking can be an exciting experience. You may feel tempted to pick it up and take it home as a memento. However, there are a few important factors to consider before deciding to keep a feather you stumble upon. In this article, we’ll explore the ethics, legality, and risks of keeping feathers in order to help you make an informed decision.

Is It Legal to Keep a Feather You Find?

The legality of keeping a feather you find depends on what type of bird it came from and where you found it. In the United States, it is generally illegal to possess any part of a native wild bird, including feathers, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This law protects over 1,000 species of birds that migrate or are native to North America.

There are a few exceptions to this law:

– Feathers that are molted naturally and collected while on the ground can be kept. However, you cannot collect feathers directly from a living bird.

– Non-native bird feathers like peacocks or parrots can be collected if the bird was legally owned.

– Certain game birds like pheasants and turkeys have seasonal hunting allowances for their feathers.

So if you find a feather while hiking, it most likely came from a native wild bird and would be illegal to keep without proper permits. The penalties for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can include fines up to $15,000 and possible imprisonment.

Ethical Considerations of Keeping Feathers

Aside from legal concerns, there are some ethical issues to ponder before deciding to keep a feather you stumble across:

– **Respect the bird’s space.** If you find a feather still attached to a living bird, it’s best to admire it from a distance. Plucking feathers directly off birds causes them pain and distress. Wait for feathers to fall out naturally during molting season.

– **Prevent disruption to nests.** Some birds line their nests with feathers to keep eggs warm. If you remove too many feathers from an area, it could negatively impact nesting birds that rely on them.

– **Spread awareness, not germs.** Birds can carry diseases, parasites, and bacteria. Handling feathers could spread these to other birds or yourself without proper sanitization. Promote bird conservation in other ways.

– **Honor cultural significance.** Feathers hold meaning in many Indigenous cultures. Taking feathers disrespects these traditions and spiritual practices when done without permission.

– **Consider endangerment.** For rare, threatened, or endangered birds, even one lost feather could be detrimental to the species. Document but don’t disturb.

Overall, the ethical choice is to avoid removing feathers from the wild whenever possible. Appreciate them briefly and let them return to nature.

Risks of Keeping Feathers

Aside from legal repercussions, there are a few potential risks to consider before deciding to keep a feather:

**Health hazards**

– **Allergies** – Bird proteins in feathers can trigger allergic reactions or aggravate asthma in sensitive people. Wear a mask when cleaning.

– **Mites & lice** – Feathers may harbor external parasites. Inspect thoroughly and sterilize with freezing or fumigation.

– **Bacteria** – Feathers can carry salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria. Disinfect with UV light and proper sanitizing.

– **Fungal infections** – Feathers can grow aspergillosis mold spores. Use gloves when handling to avoid infection.

**Home hazards**

– **Dust accumulation** – Feather dander and particles can aggravate allergies and be difficult to clean. Display in a case.

– **Fire risk** – Feathers are flammable and can spread flames rapidly. Avoid displaying near open flames or heat sources.

– **Pests** – Stored feathers can attract carpet beetles, silverfish, and other fabric pests. Keep them in airtight containers with pest deterrent.

– **Pet hazards** – Cats and dogs may try ingesting feathers out of curiosity. Monitor them to prevent choking hazards.

With caution, most risks can be managed. But it takes diligent monitoring and proper storage to possess feathers safely at home.

Alternatives to Keeping Feathers

If you decide that keeping feathers found in nature is not right for you, there are some alternatives to consider:

– **Photograph the feather** where you found it and let it remain in its habitat.

– **Record details** about the feather in a nature journal along with the date/location.

– **Purchase ethically-sourced feathers** from reputable shops instead of wild-harvesting.

– **Find feathers** from game birds that a friend hunted or purchased legally.

– **Use shed feathers** from your own pet birds if you have them.

– **Look for molted feathers** during walks but leave them where they lie after admiring.

– **Volunteer** with local bird conservation groups instead of collecting artifacts.

– **Make a craft** using synthetic feathers or reused materials when possible.

With a bit of creativity, you can find alternative ways to enjoy feathers that are both legal and ethical. Appreciating them visually or sharing photos allows you to admire feathers without taking them.


When you stumble upon an interesting feather, take a moment to consider where it came from before deciding to pick it up. In most cases, the ethical and legal choice is to leave the feather undisturbed. Photograph or sketch it instead to capture the memory. If you do choose to keep a feather, source it sustainably from reputable providers or shed feathers from your own birds. Be mindful of the hazards of collecting feathers and preserve them responsibly. Finding a feather can be a delightful experience as long as you treat the encounter with care and respect for nature.


Source Key Points
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Overview of feather legality per the MBTA.
National Audubon Society – Tips For Ethical Feather Collecting Ethical considerations for sustainable feather harvesting.
CDC – Salmonella From Backyard Poultry Disease risks from handling bird feathers.
Journal of Asthma – Bird Allergens in House Dust Allergenic risks of exposure to feathers.
Fire Safety Advice Centre – Are Feathers Flammable? Fire hazards of feather displays in the home.