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New Orleans, LA

(504) 517-4844


field notes: on feathers

Emily Degan

Wade's  When We Least Expect It

Wade's When We Least Expect It

We recently came across the work of talented New Orleans artist, Jordan B. Wade, whose new collection, Serendipity, pays tribute to the grace in life’s unexpected moments. After happening on a particularly beautiful feather during a walk, she got thinking about its history and how (whether we realize it or not) our interactions with nature and each other enrich the world around us. Feathers became central to her series.

Feathers have captured the imaginations of artists, bird watchers, and nature lovers of all sorts, but for hunters they take on particular importance: a difference between feathers can mean the difference between legal and illegal hunting. So, we got to thinking… Where do feathers come from? How did their colors change and why?

It is thought that dinosaurs evolved long feathers on their arms to help with balance while running or climbing. Nowadays birds have up to seven different types of feathers, each serving a different purpose: flying for windproof wing feathers, steering for fanned tail feathers, or insulating for fluffy semiplume feathers. Feathers are made of a protein called beta-keratin and grow tip-first from the skin; most baby birds develop their flight feathers by about three weeks.

Like the dinosaurs, birds have evolved to better suit their habitats and lifestyles. Differences in feathers’ coloring help birds identify members of their own species, attract a partner, show aggression, and camouflage themselves. Within species, slight evolution can occur due to differences in behavior: blue-winged teal tend to nest close to shorelines, while green-winged teal nest in grassy areas further from the water.

So, as habitats change and their inhabitants evolve, it’s likely that future hunters will be seeking very different looking birds than the ones we see today. Fortunately for today’s hunters concerned about proper identification, these things happen slowly.

Happy hunting!