Feathers: an identification guide to the feathers of western European birds 

By Cloé Fraigneau 

Helm, 2021

Hbk, 400pp; many colour photographs 

ISBN 978-1-4729-7172-2; £55.00 

I suspect that most of us who started birding from a young age will have collected birds’ feathers; for me, it was a major part of my hobby at that time. It is, however, a field that does not seem to capture the imagination of most adult birders in Britain – but, elsewhere in Europe, feather collecting is an interest for many. Cloé Fraigneau has collected feathers from an early age and now has a collection of feathers from 350 species, including wings from about 150. 

This guide is her second book on feathers. It first appeared in 2017 in French – Identifier les Plumes des Oiseaux d’Europe Occidentale – and this title is a straight translation of that work, with exactly the same images. It is well laid out and contains large, colour photographs of feathers for just over 300 species, with around 100 more described. It is not exhaustive and, in most cases, just a selection of feathers is illustrated, sometimes just a single feather.  

To help get the reader started on feather collection and identification, there is a chapter explaining the process for working out what you are looking at by using a key. 

For most of us, the real attraction of this book will be the collection of photographs showing the feathers of regularly occurring species. These are grouped by family, starting with crows and moving through the main passerine groups before ending with owls. The index easily directs the reader to the correct pages. All regularly occurring British species are included, either as illustrated entries or with descriptions. 

The photographs are clear and the labelling shows not only the species, but also the position of the feather – the book provides detailed charts for some species comparing each feather, showing where they fit into the bird’s body. These are shown as a size-percentage against the largest feather in that group. Clearly, wing and tail feathers are easier to identify, but the book features many body feathers too. On some pages, the species are partitioned to prevent misunderstandings, but this would have been good for all species. Despite a few omissions, this is an attractive book that will be of great use to anyone who collects feathers, and to a wider audience too. 

Keith Betton

Issue 7
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