19 Aug 2022
Written for Hardback
I suspect that most of us will have collected birds’ feathers at some point if we started birding as a child, and for me it was a major part of my hobby at that time. It is something that does not seem to capture the imagination of adult birders in the UK but in Europe feather collecting is an interest for many. Cloé Fraigneau has collected feathers since being a child and now has wings of about 150 species and feathers of 350 species overall. In total she has tens of thousands of feathers, many of which she is still identifying.
This guide is her second book on feathers and first appeared in 2017 in French - Identifier les Plumes des Oiseaux d'Europe Occidentale
, and this is a straight translation of that work with exactly the same images. It is well laid out and contains large colour photographs of feathers for just over 300 species while about 100 more and just described. It is not exhaustive and in most cases just a selection feathers are illustrated – and sometimes just a single feather.
To help get you started on feather collection and identification there is a chapter explaining the process for working out what you are looking at by using a key. This will guide you to what you might be looking at. Ardent feather collectors try to identify not only the species but the precise location in sequence for any tail or wing feathers. The book provides detailed charts for some species comparing each feather against others they fit next to in the bird’s wing. These are shown as a percentage against the largest feather in that group. Clearly wing and tail feathers are easier to identify, but the book features many body feathers too.
For most of us, however, the real attraction of this book will be the collection of photographs showing the feathers of regularly seen species. These are grouped by family although not in the order you might expect. This section starts with crows and moves through the main passerines groups and ends with owls. The index easily directs you to the correct pages. All of the main UK species are included, although in some cases the author did not have access to feathers so simply a description is given.
The photographs are clear and the labelling shows not only the species, but also the position of the feather – using the widely accepted system of numbering primaries, secondaries and retrices. On some pages the species are partitioned to prevent misunderstandings, but that would have been good for all species. Not all species are illustrated, but there are some gaps in coverage where little information is given. Despite these omissions, this is an attractive book that will be of great use to anyone who collects feathers, and a wider audience too.