Feathers are widely used to represent mercury contamination in birds. Yet, few recommendations exist that provide guidance for using bird feathers in mercury monitoring programs. We conducted a literature review and 5 experiments to show that mercury concentrations vary substantially within (vane >100% higher than calamus) and among (>1000%) individual feathers from the same bird. We developed a research tool and guidelines for using bird feathers for mercury studies based on three components: 1) variability of feather mercury concentrations within an individual bird (coefficient of variation [CV]), 2) desired accuracy of the measured mercury concentration, and 3) feather and bird mass. Our results suggest a general rule that if the goal is to limit analytical and processing costs by using whole feathers in only one sample boat, then to achieve an accuracy within 10% of a bird’s overall average feather mercury concentration a bird with a CV≤10% must be <190 g (size of large shorebird). To achieve an accuracy within 20%, a bird with a CV≤10% must be <920 g (size of large duck). When >1 sample boat is needed to fit the required number of feathers to achieve the desired accuracy, results suggest homogenizing feathers and analyzing an aliquot of ≥20 mg for mercury. This study indicates increasing the number of feathers typically used per bird to assess mercury concentrations.