• SilverFast - Quality Scanner and Digital Imaging Software made in Germany since 1986
Bird feathers are 3-dimensional objects – SilverFast can be used to digitize them.


Bird Feathers

The process of scanning bird feathers is an important step in the creation of digital databases and the study of bird species. Scanning makes it possible to capture detailed images of feathers that can be used for scientific studies, forensic analysis and educational purposes.

The Importance of Bird Feathers for Aviation

Identifying feathers is crucial in order to clarify the causes of many plane crashes and to prevent future accidents. Two approaches are used to identify feather remains:

  • The microscopic approach includes the analysis of downy feather structures under the microscope and sometimes also a biochemical examination or DNA extraction. This is necessary when only small feather fragments or traces of blood can be found.

  • The macroscopic approach allows a visual comparison and does not require expensive instruments. This approach is used when larger feather fragments or other body parts of the bird are found.

Although books on microscopic feather analysis already exist, there is a lack of literature and complete illustrated guides on macroscopic identification, particularly with color photographs. Given this shortage, it was decided to develop a feather identification book based on color photographs. The project quickly progressed to a fairly advanced stage, but additional funding was needed to cover production costs.

Source Material and Methodology

The project is based on a large feather collection that has been built up over the last 15 years with the help of various institutions and is kept in the Zoological Museum of the University of Hamburg. The plan is to illustrate and describe feathers of almost all European bird species on about 800 pages in 24 x 34 cm format.

The main part of the book consists of over 600 large colour photographs showing a complete set of primary, secondary and tail feathers of each bird species. The feathers are glued to grey cardboard and scanned with a high-resolution scanner. This method provides reproducible results, although it is time-consuming. The data is presented in a compact and precise manner in order to keep it as concise as possible.

The descriptions of the feathers are divided into four sections:

  • Feather coloration, including differences between sex and age groups.

  • Plumage structure, including number, position and shape of feathers.

  • Information on the longest primary and tail feathers.

  • List of similar genera and their distinguishing features.

The genus data is preceded by the family data, which summarizes the common characteristics of each family. A brief identification key helps to assign the feather to a family, and a list of similar species enables final identification.

The Feather Guide

In 1998, Delachaux et Niestlé, a Swiss-French publisher of natural history works, expressed the wish to publish a photographic guide to the feathers of European birds in French. Even the most comprehensive work on feathers, the ten-volume work by Dr. rer. nat. habil. Wolf-Dieter Busching, is based on drawings and not photographs. The underlying collection was donated to the Zoological Museum of the University of Hamburg in 1996, with unrestricted access for life.

Important decisions that have to be made in advance include the arrangement of the feathers on the portraits, the choice of background and the determination of the portrait standard size. These specifications are consistently applied to the production of all feather portraits, and a time frame of one to one and a half years is estimated for the realization of the project. In 2009, a DVD of feather portraits of all songbird species of the Western Palearctic will be released under the title “The Feather Atlas for the Birds of the Western Palearctic”, containing 1280 full-size feather portraits of songbirds.

Color Reproduction

The search for the optimal color reproduction for the feather portraits led to numerous tests with high-quality cameras and scanners. The tests showed that flatbed scanners offer clear advantages over cameras, as they avoid stray light and capture the feathers more sharply. Various scanner models were tested under the guidance of Dr. Sehran Tatari from Linotype. The Fujicolor Lanovia C550 achieved impressive results, but was too expensive. The Epson GT 12000, which had similar capabilities to the more expensive Lanovia C550, was found to be suitable for the project.

Epson kindly provided a GT 12000. The choice of scanner software proved crucial, with SilverFast from LaserSoft Imaging being the industry standard. The generous donation of a GT 12000 and SilverFast software by Karl-Heinz Zahorsky of LaserSoft Imaging formed the backbone of this project and the majority of the feathers were scanned with it. Another scanner of the same type was donated by Mr. Zahorsky to Maharishi European Research University and also supported the project.

The Croatian Falconry Association

The Falconry Association, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2000 to preserve and protect the population of birds of prey in Croatia. The Falconry Center, an official agency of the Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection, treats more than 150 injured wild birds every year and runs the only veterinary service for wild animals in Croatia. Thanks to donations, a forensic wildlife laboratory has been set up and a raptor DNA database has been established. A donation from EPSON made it possible to digitize a large collection of feathers for scientific and forensic work.

Before scanning, the feathers are cleaned, dedusted and sterilized. The feathers are digitized and archived using the Epson Expression 10000XL scanner and SilverFast. The background of the images is processed using Photoshop to remove unnecessary shadows. In addition to scanning individual feathers, an overall image of the plumage is created to show primary, secondary and tail feathers together.

Dorsal view of the tail feathers of the European Eagle Owl
Dorsal view of the tail feathers of the European Eagle Owl
Ventral view of the European Eagle Owl's tail feathers
Ventral view of the European Eagle Owl's tail feathers


Gabriel Hartmann
The Feather Guide (German)

USC – Udruga Sokolarski centar
Atlas pera ptica