Last Night I Dreamed of Feathers

White featherLast night I dreamed of feathers, there were feathers everywhere, on my head, my hands, and in between my toes . Some were white with blueish-black dots and a rufous shaft, some were black and brown striped, others were blueish green, but overall they were white. I dreamed that I blew down the middle of a bird’ s body to expose their skin. There were no full images of this bird, all I could see were the white breast and belly feathers. I dreamed that there were many feathers floating in the air as I sat and watched, they were flying with the wind along the ocean and the forest.

You may wonder, why did I dream of feathers? Well, feathers have surrounded me for the last two weeks during my time with Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO). As I learn how to band songbirds in southern Oregon, feathers and overall plumage are one of the main characteristics we carefully observe in order to identify species, determine subspecies, age, and sex.

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Taking the wing length on a female Oregon junco

On a daily basis we either drive to or set up camp at the site where we will be banding. We arrive before the birds are up, while it’s still dark. We then get the banding table ready and fifteen minutes before sunrise, we start setting up mist nets. Nets are checked frequently, birds are quickly extracted, and then processed. Processing time should take no more than two to three minutes in order to minimize stress on the birds. During this time, the bird is identified, banded, its age, and sex are determined, and measurements such as wing length and weight are taken. Additionally, by blowing on the body and wing feathers, one can check if molt, fat tissue, brood patch, or cloacal protuberance are present and record their extent. After all data is taken, the bird is safely released and we move to the next bird.

This may not sound too hard, but one must study a lot to get good at it. Specially to handle days like last week, when we had 109 birds!  Such days can be stressful and require being very efficient. This means already knowing what bandsize the individual needs, as well as, knowing the species-specific morphological characteristics and measurements that aid in determining age and sex. Knowing such, reduces the time one might spent looking through the reference book and allows for a fast processing time which is in everyone’s best interest (humans’ and feathered friends’).

With all the close avian interaction I’ve had and with all the reading and studying I’ve been doing on my free time, it is no wonder that I dreamed of feathers. But dreaming of feathers isn’t bad, I appreciate the beauty in every feather and I find it harmonious to watch them float. I hope I dream of feathers again.

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