For this study, I compared sequentially molted feathers for a few captive raptors from year to year and symmetrically matched feathers (left/right pairs) for many raptors to see if color patterns of sequential feather pairs were identical or if symmetrical pairs were mirror-image identical. Feather pairs were found to be identical only when without color pattern (e.g., the all-white rectrices of Bald Eagles [Haliaeetus leucocephalus]). Complex patterns were not closely matched, but some simple patterns were sometimes closely matched, although not identical. Previous claims that complex color patterns in feather pairs are fingerprint-identical (and therefore that molted feathers from wild raptors can be used to identify breeding adults from year to year with certainty) were found to be untrue: each feather is unique. Although it is unwise to be certain of bird of origin using normal feathers, abnormal feathers can often be so used. ?? 2009 The Raptor Research Foundation, Inc.
Additional publication details
On the uniqueness of color patterns in raptor feathers