Ring-Necked Duck Feathers

Ring-necked duck flank feathers offer vivid markings.


I noticed the flank feathers on my ring-necked duck were quite marked. At first glance they appeared even more so than mallard. Upon comparison the vermiculation does appear a little darker and more dense. Not really so big difference that I don’t think you would really notice it in a fly pattern, but the feathers are certainly worth plucking and saving. In addition there are some dark semi-large and long feather near the tail of the duck that would work for spey patterns. Too bad the brown feathers of the ring neck are not really distinct or pronunced in color. There are a good number of white feathers in the wings that will be good for small wet fly wings. Also some of the primary wing feathers have a green cast that is interesting.

Flank feathers plucked and ready to store in a plastic bag.

Some care has to be taken when procuring and storing your own fly tying materials. I have always found good information in Eric Leiser’s old book, Fly-Tying MaterialsTheir Procurement, Use, and Protection© 1973 by Eric Leiser Crown Publishers, Inc., New York.

I found the following good instruction on the web at:

http://www.flyfishingwis.com/html/tying_materials.html

Birds Skinning or Plucking?

Once you have the game bird look it over to see what usefully feathers are on the bird. Then decide if you’re going to pluck the feathers that you want off the bird or skin it out. For example most ducks I pluck off the flank, breast and the CDC feathers and not bother skinning it out. But with a Bobwhite Quail or Hungarian Partridge and other upland birds, I’ll skin out the whole bird because there are so many usefully feathers on the bird. I may also depend on how shot up or dirty the bird is. I do have some ducks that I have skinned out and some upland birds that I have plucked.

You may want to consider freezing the bird until you have time to process it. This will also help kill any bugs on the bird, see the section below on killing bugs.

Skinning…

When skinning out birds I will cut off there wings and set them aside for later processing. This will make it easier to skin the bird out because the wings always seem to get in the way. Heavy scissors or wire cutters will help you get the wings off quickly and make it easer to skin out the bird. Just clip off the wings next to the body. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to make the first cut along the top or the bottom if the bird. Most ducks have better feathers for fly tying along there breast so the first cut will be along their back and the opposite is mostly true of upland birds.

The skin on birds is generally very thin and will rip and tear easily. You will need to be careful as to how hard you pull on the skin when removing it. Also be careful when using a knife on the skin. One tip is to use your fingers to push between the skin and meat and only use a knife where the skin is hard to remove.

Once you have the bird skinned out you need to cure it. You can Dry or tan your birds skins, most of the time I’ll use the drying method. See the Drying and tanning section below.

Plucking…

There is no trick to plucking a bird, just grab a few feathers at a time and give a good tug. Some feathers come out easier if you pull them in the opposite direction that they are growing. You may want to keep the different feathers separated from each other I.E. keep the CDC in a different bag from breast feathers. I like to use paper bags to hold the feathers, paper allows the feathers to dry out in the bag.

The more difficult task with plucked feathers is dealing with ones that are dirty or bloody. If you can get some that are fairly clean you can move right on to the treating them for bugs and skip the next clean section. The other advantage to not cleaning the feathers is that they will retain any natural oils that will help keep your dry flies floating.

Washing…

So if you do have some feathers you need to wash, here are some ideas on how to go about it.

First find a container to wash the feathers in, sink, bucket, ect. Then add some mild detergent like Dawn dish soap, Woolite, or similar detergent and warm water. I like Woolite because it seems to add some luster to the feathers. You can add in some bleach or ammonia to help kill the bugs. But I would still treat the feathers for bugs after they are washed with one of the below methods, because I’m not sure that they would be exposed to the bleach or ammonia long enough to kill them. Then gently stir the feathers by hand and repeat if needed and rinse well. DO NOT WRING OUT WATER!!, this will destroy the feathers and quills. I have used a fine mesh kitchen strainer, (like the one you would use to get lumps out of the gravy, just don’t let the wife find out). Do not use water any hotter then what comes out of your tap, to avoid damage to the feathers barbs.

Drying…

As for drying the feathers you have a few choices. You can place the feathers in to a paper bag or old pillow case. Then wrap it around the neck of a hair drier. You may need to add a few hole to allow the air can escape. Do not use the ‘hot’ setting, feather tips can be singed easily.

Or you can to put wet feathers between some newspapers. Place a flat weight on top and let air dry. The feathers will dry and not curl as much as they will when using hot air.

Or you can put the feathers into an old pillow case, tie the end of the pillow case and throw the whole thing into the drier, put it on a low heat setting. You will be surprised at how nice then come out of the dryer. This is one of the easier and quicker methods I have used to dry feathers.

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