How to take care of your Feathers
Nature and her birds sometimes gift us with feathers. These feathers are very delicate masterpieces of aerodynamics and evolutionary efforts to enable birds to fly in heaven. So it is very important to take care and to treat them well to keep them in shape.
Usually you find moulted feathers that were moulted by birds in the course of the year. Because all feathers a bird has are important and vital for its ability to fly a bird usually moults only damaged and old feathers. Only a few species does loose nearly all feathers at once. There are different kinds of feathers. Primaries, secondaries and rectrices are usually the biggest ones - which are commonly utilized in the famous feather-crowns of native tribes in America. The smaller tertiaries and contour-feathers are still important for the aerodynamics. The downs are isolating the bird. All feathers - except two - are paired. The two single ones are the symmetrical one in the mid of the tail and a down in the middle of the thoracal feathers. I have photographed various kinds of feathers here and explained them in a separate article on andean-condor feathers.
Feathers with a clear white rachis are moulted ones. If the bottom of the racis is frayed or "wet" - which means blood-stained - it was ripped from a living bird, usually. If you ever have tried to rip a feather from a wing you know how difficult this task is and that the rachis takes damage during this attempts. Especially the plumage of protected species like the spotted eagle or other birds of prey require valid papers and legitimations in order to possess them legally. In europe exists the "EU-Bescheinigung" which is also named "CITES" - in the U.S. it is prohibited for non-native citizens to possess any (!) feather of protected and endangered species.
Usually a moulted feather is in more or less poor shape when you find it on the ground or in nature. Sometimes you have more luck and the feather is still in a good shape. Anyway, I do clean all feathers I find or get. I use hand-warm water and a small dip of mild shampoo or special detergent for silk. Then I soak the feather in the water. Some minutes later I manually remove visible dirt from the feathers vane, still the feather remains in the water. After this I wash the detergent out from it under flowing, fresh water. The feather seems to appear in a much worse shape then before after this procedure, it is still wet and its vane not connected. I dry it very carefully with a smooth towel - dabbing only. The last step is to dry it with a hair-drier. During this last step I frequently interrupt the drying and smooth the vane with my fingers, just like a bird does with its peak. If you do not smooth the vane during drying the feather looks quite poor shaped after cleaning, so you better do it. Besides the smoothing you also greasing it and thus protecting it with your own talcum, establishing a direct personal link to the feather, too. You should repeat this smoothing frequently, keeping the feather clean and in shape.
After you cleaned your feather and it is in shape again it can be used for your artwork or can be stored. Feathers from wild and untamed birds are usually mity and need a special treatment. Try to get into your mind that the best solution is not necessarily a nice one here. Preparators use some highly efficient compounds to get rid of these mites. If you possess not too many feathers it is okay storing them in a protected location where they cannot catch too much dust. A cabinet's shelf or a shelf in a wardrobe is sufficient. Large amounts of feathers can be easily stored in light plastic bags. Put them into the bag, utilize your compound against mites and close the bag. Another way of storing them is to stick them vertical into a sand-filled pot, but occasionally you need to take care of them.
It is a very bad idea to forget them laying on the ground. Feathers are then quickly catch mites and some other small insects that can do considerable damage to your feathers. You have also to keep in mind never to store too many feathers loose in a box when they are not treated against mites.