Rob Hults with Aisling, Eurasian Eagle Owl

The Open Door Bird Sanctuary (ODBS) is a 34-acre sanctuary in Door County that provides homes for un-releasable birds of prey. These raptors become incredible ambassadors of the environment and work with the ODBS staff to inspire and educate the public both at the sanctuary and at many other locations.

Thanks to the support of our members, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin has funded their important bird conservation and educational programming through our C.D. Besadny Conservation Fund in previous years.

Below learn more from ODBS’s executive director Rob Hults on best practices when it comes to finding bird feathers.

This Blue Jay feaher really glowed in the grass below my feeder.

Photo by Rob Hults 

I have a confession to make to all of you. 

Before I got into this whole crazy bird life, I violated federal law.  Having a love for anything feathered, I’ve always had lots of bird feeders.  When going out to fill them, I’d occasionally find a molted songbird feather below the feeders. I’d thank the bird for leaving me such a beautiful treasure, and carefully take it inside to my feather collection in a small vase. I had no idea that it is against federal law to possess the feathers from wild birds. Fortunately for me, the feather police never caught wind of my transgressions. 

Now, being familiar with the protective regulations regarding wild birds and their feathers, my little collection has gone back to nature.

Why can’t I keep a feather I’ve found?

You’re probably asking the same question I have. Why can’t I keep a feather I’ve found? 

It’s pretty practical really. For generations, feathers have been used in many decorative ways. Unfortunately, birds were often killed just to collect their feathers.  Once removed from the bird, there is no way to know how they were acquired. 

A naturally molted feather will look the same as a cleanly plucked one. The federal migratory bird act of 1972 put specific laws in place to protect all birds to keep them from being killed for their feathers. That makes good sense to me.

Great Horned owl wing feather lying below a large pine tree

Photo by Rob Hults 

So are there any you are allowed to have? 

There sure are!  The feathers from upland game birds are legal to keep. Turkey, pheasant, grouse, and the like. The same goes for waterfowl game birds. Canada geese, Mallard ducks, and many others. 

I’ve included a few photos of feathers I have found while spending time outdoors.  You can see their beauty is captured in the photograph, and the memory of finding them is still etched in my mind.  The feather itself?  It remained where I found it, perhaps in view of another lucky passer-by!

Redtail hawk feather found in tall grass of a fence row

Photo by Rob Hults

Wild Turkey wing and tail feathers 

Photo by Rob Hults

Most feathers are permitted, but there is an exception.

At Open Door Bird Sanctuary (ODBS) we have special permits to retain feathers for educational purposes. But even an educational facility like ODBS is not allowed to possess eagle feathers. We save all the molted feathers from Fisher, our Bald Eagle, and they are sent to a federal repository. From there they are distributed to Native American tribes who have requested feathers for religious or cultural purposes. It’s pretty cool to contribute feathers with such historical and ceremonial significance to the Native American people. 

Before I sent the feathers away, I took a photo of some of Fisher’s molted tail feathers. The three in the center are last year’s molt. The two on the outsides are from this year. You can really see how he is maturing as his tail becomes closer to the pure white we see in fully adult birds.

Bald Eagle tail feathers

Photo by Rob Hurts 

Preserve Nature

Next time you are out in nature and find a beautiful feather treasure, pick it up! Study it, and of course take a picture. Then place it back where it was found. It truly is a gift to find a feather, even if it doesn’t end up in a little vase at home.

Be safe and well, and enjoy all the gifts of nature!

Rob Hults, Executive Director
Open Door Bird Sanctuary

Written by Rob Hults, Executive Director – Open Door Bird Sanctuary 

Rob Hults is a founder, and the Executive Director of Open Door Bird Sanctuary (ODBS) located in Jacksonport, Door Co, WI. He is an avid outdoorsman, conservationist, and a Door County Master Naturalist.

To learn more about ODBS, you can visit their website at, or contact Rob directly at

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