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Knowing that I've been on a quest for duck neck feathers lately, my wife called while driving to the gym this morning to say she'd just seen a dead mallard drake in the median not far from home. The dog and I sprang into action, drove over and scooped it up into a plastic garbage bag and then hustled it home. (Yes, I know there are laws on the books in this ass-backward state about illegal possession of wild birds, but what the heck - it was a mallard for chrissakes!)

After spending the morning with a client, I finally headed out to pluck the dead duck after lunch. He was pretty messed up with guts oozing out from spots on his bottom side that I didn't feel like exploring. After all, it was the lightly-barred, dark, spade-shaped feathers on his neck and upper back I was after.

I plucked as many as I could find that weren't too bloody and gave him a decent Christian burial in my garbage toter. I zipped up the baggie full of feathers and gave it 30 seconds in my microwave to zap any pesky pests.

But here's where my knowledge of dealing with deceased wildlife displays a huge ignorance gap.

After its stint in the nuker, the baggie puffed up with steam suggesting that there was still a lot of moisture (and some blood) in with the feathers. What's the best way to dry them? Should I get anal about cleaning them or just consider the bloodier ones a sort of natural fish attractant like shrimp oil?

Thanks in advance,

K
 

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I'm pretty sure you can just wash the bloody feathers off with a liquid dish washing detergent and water. You can dry them in a mesh bag of some sort (wife's old pantyhose works) with a hair dryer on low. Taxidermists do this all the time. So you can search the internet for more information or head to the local library for a book. SS
PS. 10 seconds in the microwave is plenty to kill bugs.
 

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Normally give mine the head and tail treatment do the microwave bit and then place the bag into the deep freeze for a couple of nights. I am sure the micro does it I just like the peace of mind!

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Kent,

You don't need to get to anxious about a bit of moisture. As for the bloody feathers you may want to sort them out and wash them in just water. If a detergent is used the natural oils in the feathers will be removed.

Lay the washed feathers out to air dry and then bag loosely and leave the baggie open for awhile to breath. The same thing can be done with the rest of your feathers, bagged and not seal up the bag right away. If you think about it you don't want a bone dry feather. They are brittle and hard to work with. Often I have had to soak feathers to get them pliable enough to work with.

These feathers are going to get wet when you fish them. So how you deal with wet flies to allow them to dry will work fine for the feathers you have.

Dave
 

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Unless you really want to tie with a bunch of really funky smelling feathers I would advise you to wash and clean the blood and whatever off of the feathers cause if you bag them moist its just going to rot and smell.
tony
 

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Kent,

I usually wash all the feathers in a warm solution of Dawn dishwashing liquid. We use Dawn to remove gunk from birds in eco disasters so it really isn't hard on the feathers. I usually just lay the feathers out on some paper towels to dry. If you use the net bag in the dryer trick, dry them alone.

Bugs that survive the nuking, washing and trip to the freezer will be around long after mankind is gone.

REE
 

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I agree with you Tony in not wanting a wet or damp feather. To have some moisture content residually though is not a bad thing.

Washing with a detergent will remove natural oils that naturally disperse water. So it depends on what you are using a feather for. There are some flies that the natural oils on the feather is a plus and one of the reasons for using water fowl feathers. Yes, Dawn is used in a mild solution to clean up oil fouled birds. However it takes a period of time before these birds can be released back into their natural habitat to allow the bird to restore the oil on the feathers. Without the oil on the feathers the plumage would soak up water and the bird could drown.

Dave
 

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Formerly tbc1415
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I often wash skins, necks, backs and individual feathers to remove oil. Even store boughts are sometimes pretty oily and game birds especially so. The oil tends to make the fiber clump together preventing a nice spread around the hook when wrapping a hackle. Sometimes that's okay but more often than not I like them to spread.
With fresh plucked feathers like Kent's I do this:

Nuke for 30 seconds.
Before washing, prepare the feathers as you would before wrapping on a fly by removing the fluff on the lower feather. Later on you will be happy you did this now. The fluff holds vermin, water and oil so get rid of it first.

Full your sink or other basin-like container with lukewarm water. Add a small squirt of Dawn. Swirl it around slowly to mix. Using too much Dawn will cut too much oil and remove some of the sheen of the feather. Creating suds does not help at all and makes it hard to see your feathers in the water.

Put the feathers in the water, press them under the surface and swirl around a little. Let them sit there for 10+ minutes to allow the Dawn to cut the grease (oil). You don't want to disturb the lay of the fibers any more than necessary so be gentle with them. Swirl them around a little more and remove from the water using a strainer.

Empty and rinse the sink and refill with clean lukewarm water. Put in feathers and swirl around some more to rinse. Remove and repeat for a good double rinse. You don't want a residue of Dawn any more than you wanted the oil.
Remove and spread on black and white newspaper. Change the newspaper after most of the water drains off.
Let dry.

I have a small wooden frame about 1' x 2' with window screen stretched over that I put feathers on for all around air flow. It helps them dry.
You can preen the feathers a bit if you want during the drying process to realign the fibers if they get messed up during the washing and rinsing.

Washing skins, necks, rumps and other patches follow the same guidelines with a bit more preening and some cold or warm (never hot) air from a hair dryer for the initial drying to separate the feathers (wet feathers stick together). Sometimes you need to put some weight on the patch to keep it from curling as the skin dries.

There are many other washing regimes that work just as well but this is mine. Your mileage may vary.

TC
 

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Tim,

Thank-you for the well detailed info! It makes sense when presented that way. I may have misunderstood the gentelman that explained it to me quite awhile ago or got the info shuffled around.

If one is using waterfowl feathers for a feathered streamer would one still want to remove the oil? It would seem that in that usage the oil would be benefitial.

Dave
 

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Dave

I think you are right about retaining oil for certain uses. Clean feathers straight off the bird do have the best sheen, plus the oil will help keep them from becoming brittle. Thanks for pointing that out. As they say "The devil is in the details".
In that case just nuke to get rid of vermin and dry. There are also chemical alternatives for getting rid of vermin (flea collars, moth balls, etc.)


TC
 

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Too bad you don't live here in Montana. Here you can have all the Skunks you need for fur. But then again, who would want to pick them up. Yuck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you collect them and wash them and I will come and pick them up.

TC
 
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