Grey Feather

I PICKED UP this feather by the stream in Coxley Valley. The most obvious bird to leave a 6 inch (16cm) wing feather (a secondary?) like this in the wood would be a Pheasant but this feather is greyish brown and whitish, rather than the brown and tan that I’d expect a feather from a female Pheasant to be. If I’d picked it up on the coast I would have assumed it was from a juvenile gull, and of course it could be; they do fly over the wood.

Another thought was that it might be a Tawny Owl. We do get them in the wood but there’s no sign of a downy fringe to this feather, even under a microscope at 60x. It’s this downy fringe to the feathers that makes owls so silent in flight, compared, for instance, with the clattery take off of a Wood Pigeon.

It’s just occurred to me, looking out of the window that the pylon wires cross the valley at that point. Any bird sitting on the top wire – or for that matter in a tree-top below – could have dropped this while preening and one bird that will occasionally sit and preen on a perch overlooking the wood is a Sparrowhawk. The colour and pattern would be about right for a large female.

The adult female is dull brown on the upper wing, barred on the lower wing, so if you imagine this as a right wing feather the right (plain) side of the feather would show on the upper wing while the barred (left) side would be overlapped by the adjacent feather of the upper wing, so the barring would be visible only from below.

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