Collecting Feathers and Down


This is less of a project as much as it is a quick guide on plucking feathers and down and how I pluck and preserve them. While it can be tedious, especially with several birds, I have found it easiest and cleanest to hand pluck birds to save them for future projects.

Image of an individual Ring-Necked Duck in the various stages of plucking.

Image of an individual Ring-Necked Duck in the various stages of plucking.

Waterfowl have two layers of feathers, the outer layer consisting of the main plumage, and the inner layer of down feathers beneath. The outer feathers have all the color and are great to save for a wide variety of projects including fly tying for fishing, decoration, jewelry, etcetera. The down feathers are  flat gray, small, almost entirely absent of any quills and very plush. This makes these feathers great for creating pillows, blankets, jackets, and so on. The bulk of the down will be found on the breast and neck portion of the bird.

In order to separate the feathers for future projects, start by cleaning the bird off with dish soap, water and a large shoe brush, brushing with the flow of the feathers. This will remove most of the dirt, muck and blood that may be on the feathers. Then pat the bird down with paper towels until the majority of the bird is dry.

Lay the bird out with the breast facing upwards and start at the lower abdomen of the bird and brush the outer layer of feathers upward with your thumb to visibly separate the them from the down. Pinch a section of the outer layer between your thumb and pointer finger and pull swiftly up towards the head of the bird. Be certain not to be pulling or tearing any skin with the feathers. A separation should become clearly visible between the outer feathers and the down. Place the feathers into zip-seal bags and repeat. I usually keep multiple zip-seal bags out for the different types and colors of feathers.

Once the outer feathers have been collected, repeat the process for the down feathers. Any feathers near the entry point of any shot I will remove from the bird so there is no residual blood within my down.

With the feathers completely removed and bagged, place the open zip seal bags in an arid environment overnight to allow any residual moister to escape. This may need to be longer depending on your living environment and how cold it is.

Seal the bags and place them in the freezer for several days to kill off any bugs and such that may still reside within the feathers. A lot of my feathers will just remain in the freezer until Iā€™m ready to use them but after 2-3 days, the feathers should be ready for use.

At this point, the feathers are ready for use on a variety of different projects. Depending on the project, I may take additional steps to clean individual feathers with warm water and soap. For any jewelry or items to be worn on your person, I would clean them again, but for fly tying or simple decorations a simple comb through with my hands to make sure nothing is left lingering will suffice. For down feathers, I keep them in the freezer until my project is ready. Once used for stuffing any particular project, take the item to the dry cleaner and it will be ready for use.

Enjoy thinking beyond the hunt and find projects here, or search the web for all sorts of other projects to try out!