The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Bird ID When the Bird is Missing

Well, most of the bird was missing.

I was walking the dog a few days ago and we came upon a bit of mayhem that ended badly for some bird:

All that was left were a couple clumps of feathers and some flesh. Whatever had taken the bird down had been thorough.

I spent a long time trying to figure out what sort of bird this was. Obviously, a larger bird – those feathers were at least six inches long. And with that rufous edging, I didn’t figure it was an owl.

Here’s a picture of another clump of feathers with a nice little chunk of meat:

A raptor didn’t make any sense. I mean – a raptor having taken this bird down made sense, but those don’t look like any raptor from around here.

So how do you identify a bird when you only have a few feathers left?

I’m not sure what anyone else does, but I asked my question over at Flickr’s Bird ID Help Group. It’s pretty cool how people – random strangers – pitch in and help other random strangers. It’s stuff like this that makes me feel hopeful for our future.

I asked if anyone recognized the bird from which these feathers were from, and the first response was a ring-necked pheasant:



Hard to tell.

Well, what is a pheasant’s range in Minnesota? The MN DNR was the natural place to turn for that question:

Image: MN DNR

Duluth is just above the letter ‘P’ in the word ‘Prospects.’ Yeah, I don’t know. It seems pretty far out of the range (as of September, 2011).

I don’t know – the bird doesn’t look quite right… the range didn’t seem right… I wasn’t wholly satisfied, and said so.

That’s when someone pointed me to the US Fish and Wildlife’s Feather Atlas (who knew there was such a thing?!).

I browsed for a while, looked at the ring necked pheasant (and lots of other birds’ feathers), but nothing really seemed to satisfy. The feathers I found out walking were vibrant, and the pheasant feathers in the atlas were pretty muted:

The right-most feather in the above link seemed close. Maybe.

Then another person shared this image:


Bingo (and from a feather wholesaler, of all things!).

Sure enough, that’s it.

It still doesn’t entirely make sense to me that the pheasant would be this far out of its normal range. But the bigger and more satisfying thing I took from this little adventure was that people can be good and helpful, and for no reason other than to to be good and helpful.


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