Conservation Biologist Thor Hansen explains why feathers matter  »

This week on Fresh Air, Terri Gross interviewed Thor Hanson, a conservation biologist and author of the newly published Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. As part of his research, he plucked a dead wren to count its feathers. It had 1,500. A tiny wren, like the Australian white-winged fairy wren in the photo!

In the interview, which you can listen to on NPR, Hanson discusses the biological makeup of feathers, why he thinks birds evolved feathers, and how they adapted them to flight. The first feathered animals might’ve used them primarily for insulation, and now, every single individual flight feather is an airfoil, while being part of the airfoil that is the bird’s wing. Double-airfoil action for maximum flight!

Animals are amazing! So is science!

[white-winged fairy wren photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography, via Flickr]


Really? Feather fur extensions for dogs? They are as stupid as they are cruel!  »

Welcome to yet another travesty in American culture: Puppylocks. They are feather fur extensions for dogs. Feather fucking fur extensions for dogs. The world is a crazy place. It’s bad enough that people wear feather extensions, now their dogs have to? I find it completely offensive, like, towards life in general. I think it’s super whack and corny but I know that people think feather extensions look nice on them (even though they don’t) and people really care about how they look, but a dog, at best, does not give a fuck about feather extensions. Is it really worth torturing roosters for this?

The demented company that makes Puppylocks is Condition Culture. Call them and write them angry emails about how ridiculous and cruel they are—oh, and don’t forget to mention how fucked up their feather supplier is! The company they proudly get feathers from is Whiting Farms, one of the world’s largest producers of “fly tying feathers” (you know, for the glorious "sport" that is fishing). Whiting Farms says they “harvested” 125,000 roosters in the year 2000—that is pre-feather extension craze. I don’t want to imagine how many they “harvest” now.

A piece about the fad in the Seattle Times says the feathers ”come from roosters that are genetically bred and raised for their plumage. In most cases, the birds do not survive the plucking.” Some places do live-plucking? That’s a horrible and sickening process. But according to the Seattle Times, at Whiting Farms, “the roosters live about a year while their saddle feathers — the ones on the bird’s backside and the most popular for hair extensions — grow as long as possible. Then the animal is euthanized.” So Whiting Farms claims it doesn’t do live-plucking, I guess thank god for small favors?

If the roosters being killed just for their feathers isn’t bad enough for you, you can read about the breeding process in ”The Hackle Manifesto" by owner Tom Whiting himself. This "manifesto" is pretty nuts actually. Does he not have a PR person?

First, Tom tells us how helpful objectifying the roosters can be:

It is good to start out with the appreciation that even though the hackle breeders get the credit for the fine feathers, it is the roosters who do the actual producing. It is the chickens, or more specifically the individual feather follicles within their skin, which generate the coveted feathers. The bird itself can be viewed (if you are a reductionist) as merely a biological support system for feather follicles extruding dry fly hackle.

It gets better:

First it should never be forgotten that the unit of use is the individual feather. The whole breeding program must always focus on the feather… Too easily does the focus of the bird or the pelt distract from the all important individual feather… So don’t select birds, select for feathers, and then use the birds that happen to be attached to those feathers.

Wow. This dude is such a dick. He does say that you have to “pamper” the roosters and create optimum conditions for them or the feathers suffer. I guess giant rows of stacked cages means pampered? 

Eventually, he gets into the difficulty of examining feathers on a live bird: 

These aren’t gentle barnyard or fancier chickens, but demons in hackle disguise. And your goal is to look at their feathers, objectively and carefully. Well I have news, he ain’t exactly going to cooperate

You see every hackle rooster seems to realize who exactly is responsible for sentencing him to a solitary cage for the last 6 months, with nothing to look at or listen to other than lots of other confined roosters. And he also realizes he probably has only one good chance to hammer the living hell out of you… And then you have to go catch the son of a bitch as he eludes you then ambushes you from under the cages. Your sentiments can quickly shift from wanting to evaluate their necks to wringing them. Some of my most sheepish moments in life have been after hurling an especially bad rooster across the barn in utter frustration, only to watch them flutter and sail to the floor, ruffled and cackling indignantly, with every single other rooster in the shed chiming in to let you know they all witnessed your little moment of weakness.

Um, say what? Who is this guy? I think he’s in too deep. Shit is getting to him. No, shit has clearly gotten to him. Or, he just blew the roof off a haughty rooster conspiracy! Those indignant mofos are in it together!

So, that is where these Puppylocks come from. Is this really justifiable in the name of some weird projected dog vanity?


So necessary: ugly feather shorts!  »

Who doesn’t need ugly feather shorts? Originally $545, these are on sale for $218—HUZZAH! Basically, you’re losing money if you don’t buy them.

I can’t find a ton of info on ostrich feathers and cruelty but everyone seems to be in agreement that they are plucked while the birds are alive. Here’s a bit from Veg for Life:

Contrary to what you would like to think, these feathers do not fall out naturally; the feathers are either plucked while the bird is still alive or removed after the bird is slaughtered.

Ostriches, raised for their meat, leather, eggs, and feathers, naturally roam the open plains and live upwards of 75 years. Farmed ostriches are confined to small spaces, often indoors, and slaughtered at only 12 to 14 months.

So, that’s not so great. BUT THEY’RE ON SALE! I’m sure the birds appreciate that.


Feathers are for birds, not hair extensions or jewelry  »

Do my eyes deceive me? Please say yes. Please tell me this isn’t Ke$ha on a PETA poster. Tell me, make me understand how, exactly, does PETA choose the ‘spokespeople’ they feature in their ads? Seriously.

WAIT, ARE THOSE FEATHER HAIR EXTENSIONS SHE IS WEARING? IN A PETA AD? FOR REAL? (Maybe feather earrings? This is a joke, right? That seal sure is adorbz, though.)
This feather fashion is ridiculous and has got to end. Sporting dead animal parts as accessories is not hip, it’s disgusting. Let’s not kid ourselves, this feather trend is neither ethical or cute.

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