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Eagle Feathers (Faux): How To Make Them

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Eagle, hawk, owl, and all other raptor or bird of prey feathers are illegal to buy, sell, or even possess (in the USA), for anyone who's not a tribal elder enrolled in a tribe of Native Americans. That's like 99.9995% of America's population. Many people want these feathers though, for their Native American crafts, for display, or for taxidermy. Sure, you can buy them for $2-10 a quill, but you could also use some American ingenuity and make them yourself!

There is a website, Pro Chemical (or something like that) which details exactly how to dye feathers. I can't put the link on here, sorry!

I tried hand painting some turkey feathers. They came out stiff as boards, but they sure do look nice. If you want your feathers to be soft and realistic feeling, you can NOT paint them through the barbules like I did. Don't be like that guy (me). LOL.

OK here are the basic premises:

1) Feathers can not be exposed to high heat, hot water, or boiling, for a prolonged period of time, so they can not be dyed with any dye that needs heat setting.

2) Feathers can not be bleached with hypochlorite. I don't think they bleach with peroxide either. I know it can be done commercially, but a bleached feather is always going to look like a bleached feather: a fake!

3) Feathers are made out of the same stuff that fur and porky quills are made out of. Most importantly they are made out of the same stuff that SILK is made out of. Protein fiber. You see where I'm going with this?

Any technique you can use to paint on silk, with dye that will affect silk, can be used to dye feathers. You can use an artist's brush or an airbrush. If you are looking for truly awesome, super realistic raptor feathers, I recommend the airbrush. Use the x-fine tip and make sure to wear your respirator!

Feather colors:

Bald Eagle: Van Dyke Brown

Golden Eagle: Burnt Umber

Red-Tailed Hawk: Raw Umber, with a dash of yellow or cinnamon

Whites: Use an ivory or warm, natural white color, even a pale beige.

2 rules in nature: There is no black, and there is no white. If you use pure jet black or any pure white, it's going to look fake. You can use white or black in your blends or as a cover-up/base coat but do not have it show!

That website pretty much said, use a pre-activated fiber-reactive dye, mix it with isopropryl alcohol, and apply it to the feather, allowing to dry naturally. Time will set the dye. Now, I'm not so sure about that, because what if someone rubs the feather, like to preen it if it splits? The dye might come off on you! The jury is out on this method, but if it works, then this is what I would recommend. It's so easy.

Taxidermists and artists love reference photos! Google the species you are painting, and study up-close pictures of their feathers, to make sure you do an accurate and realistic job. Practice on a few junk feathers (available all over eBay, I bought from 3 bad merchants already LOL) before you begin to work on your good stock.

So what feathers do you want to use to make people think these are the real deal?

It is worth mentioning that an eagle feather is much more broad then a turkey round. You will want to select the base feather for dyeing appropriately. Again don't use a bleached feather. Many geese, swans, ducks, and pheasants are bred to be genetically white. Use natural feathers! The best feather bases I have seen so far have been silver pheasant tails, white swan rounds, and very large goose rounds. Pen raised only of course.

If you are just looking for a quick knockoff feather for a commercial quality item, you can use turkey rounds. Everyone else does, after all. many people also airbrush with oils or acrylics on feathers. Great for art, not 100% great for wearing. It can be done, but it's not as nice as the silk dye.

Fly fishermen have known this for years: there are plenty of legal substitutes for raptors (and bustards, or the rarer pheasants, and the like). What birds make good base subs? Due to their size and color, geese and swans are the favored, top picks. Peacock rounds, from the peacock (not the peahen) look just about perfect in every way! The only problem they have is that green

irridescent shine. Chicken hackle makes a superb eagle head feather. Just look for natural color, undyed feathers, from pen-raised domestic birds. Remember you can trim them to the proper length. Dye them as a last resort.

Update to my guide:

The following applies only to Non-native (Natives have access to the Eagle Repository and real raptor feathers. non's don't) craft-snobs who want the ultimate best!

So you want to make a really, really convincing fake? You're going to have to do better then just airbrushing your feathers with silk dye, using reference photos!

If you are making eagle primaries, you are going to need a feather with a breadth of 2" to 3" on each side (after you trim and shape it) of the shaft and a length of 16" to 22". The only legal birds I can think of, that will give you that kind of length, are going to be the tails of exotic pheasants (Reeves and Lady Amherst are a little longer or wider then Golden) and the tails of the large macaws. You're in for a heck of a paint job if you select a macaw center tail as your base for working, though. So I'd recommend a good Reeves' to start with.

First, trim and shape the feather according to your reference.

Now, iron your feather so it's very straight, like a table surface. If the feather stands off the table (or floor, or other straight plane) like a curled sheet of paper, that means it's a gamebird feather, it will show you up as a wearer of fakes! Again you can also get around this by using macaw. Be ready for a long, difficult paint & dye job if you do that. Ironing (low heat, using the feather sandwiched between 2 sheets of plain white paper) or steaming to straighten the feather will be a lot easier.

Now, gamebirds have a thing on the back underside of the feather shaft itself. It's a broad groove, U-shaped. Turkeys have this too. One of the easy ways LE can tell if it's a fake feather, is by looking for this groove. Get out your electric rotary drill tool (Dremel, etc) and polish off this groove. Yes, this weakens the feather. Now, re-make the groove very thin and tiny, like scored with a toothpick. Then re-seal the back of the quill with your favorite epoxy sealer and re-dye to suit. Dental acrylic epoxy will work best here. The epoxy will re-strengthen the feather, but you see why it's important to start with a straight, ironed feather.

Gamebirds also have these little lines of melanin inside the quill shaft itself. Pick up your favorite wild color turkey wing feather and you'll see a ton of straight lines running from the quill's base to the feather tip. These are not on the feather, they are actually inside it. They can not be hidden with dye, or polished off! So, how do you hide these to make your super-fakes? You have 2 choices here. Start with macaw feathers, or get out your epoxy. You're going to have to coat the entire shaft from base to tip with an opaque epoxy, then re-stain & polish to suit. Luckily epoxy is readily available nowadays.

Fake raptor secondaries are easier, you can use any feather with a breadth of 2" per side of the quill shaft and at least 14" in length, down to 10". Swan, goose, and turkey are all good, but turkey have the advantage here in that they don't have that funny wierd-feeling spot on the underside of the feather, that the geese and swans have. There is no way I know of to remove that spot. Starting with a waterfowl feather, you will always have a "it's a fake" indicator based on this spot.

You can do a little bit of yellowing of white feathers by exposing them to UV light for a bit, such as laying them on a hot sunny windowsill for a summer. You want that snow white off, a touch of ivory is more natural. Can't wait all summer? Use the dye.

Last, work on your delivery. Don't say "it's a real eagle feather" and then give it away! Your body language will tell your audience, you are lying. Work up that poker face.

It is not a quick process to make super-fakes.

Obviously, if you actually sell, display, or wear your super-fakes, you had better have some great and thorough documentation, or be prepared to let wildlife LE take them apart & ID them for you. Oh and they will! You have been warned.

Category: Forex

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