Thursday, March 21, 2013

The beauty and utility of feathers

click photo to enlarge
In the not too distant past the feathers of domestic birds such as hens, ducks and geese were highly prized. In fact, those of certain wild birds were too. I remember, as a teenager, watching one of my uncles use the blue wing feathers of a jay to make a fishing fly. He also used pheasant wings as a brush-like utensil to keep the hearth in front of an open fire clear of the ash and soot that fell from the logs, and the blue-green feathers of the mallard's speculum in the band of his hat.

Birds are no longer driven to the edge of extinction by the desire for feathers for fashionable clothing, but there is still a small market for items that use their insulating qualities. However, the downy feathers of geese and ducks used to be much more widely used for stuffing cushions, pillows and the eiderdowns that topped beds in cold weather. On the Furness peninsula and the Northumbrian coast the feathers of wild eider ducks were carefully "harvested" from nests for the purpose of filling this much-valued article of bedding. Elsewhere it was domestic breeds or wild mallard, teal, wigeon etc that were pressed into service. In the Fens of Lincolnshire and in other suitably watery areas such as the Norfolk Broads, the Cheshire meres or the Somerset Levels, purpose-made duck decoys were used to trap wild ducks. The birds were eaten and the feathers used as described above.

At the bottom of the list of desirable species from which to gather feathers was the domestic hen. Their feathers were used, but not so prized as those of the eider or geese. The other day I photographed one of my neighbour's hens, a bird that has what look to be very soft, grey feathers that are quite subtly but attractively marked. I've always been fascinated by the beauty of birds' feathers and collected them as a child. My "collecting" these days is done with a camera. Today's photograph is, I think, the fourth photograph of beautifully marked hens feathers that I've posted on the blog. One shows two images of contrasting cockerel feathers. A second has bright orange feathers contrasting with iridescent green, and the final example illustrates the rich, but more subdued colours that some cockerels display. I've also posted one featuring teal feathers.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Auto
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On