Nature Nuggets: Symbolism of feathers

While recently having lunch with a friend and fellow outdoor photographer, we were discussing the challenges of working in our industry, or rather being able to make a sustainable living in nature photography. He brought up ways he helps himself stay focused, motivated and inspired. One thing he mentioned was feathers.

In nature, birds often use them as tokens of affection during mating or to play with, like this little gosling playing with a white down feather it found on the ground. (Dawn Wilson/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

“Feathers?” I asked, perplexed by his somewhat off-the-wall suggestion.

After he explained some of the symbolism around these features of birds, we wrapped up our lunch and walked out the door to say our goodbyes.

And there on the ground just outside of the door was a large black feather. I was astounded. It had to just be coincidence, right? Or was it?

I went home and researched the meaning behind finding a feather and was astounded by how much importance not just feathers but finding feathers in certain situations and in certain colors means to various cultures and religions.

Feathers in general, because they come from birds, have a connection to freedom, flight and dropping from above. These types of connections become associated with the divine, gods and the spiritual world.

Just like in Native American cultures, feathers become an ornate part of rituals, like this male greater sage grouse that uses his tail feathers to impress hens. (Dawn Wilson/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

One of the most common associations with feathers is that finding one represents a sign that someone is watching over you.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “feathers appear when angels are near?”

The connection becomes that not only is someone watching over you, but that they hear your wishes, desires, hopes and dreams. They are looking out for you, keeping you safe and empowering you to follow whatever path you set out upon.

Because feathers have a connection to birds that soar through the sky and have a view of things from above, feathers symbolize the ability or encouragement of our minds to move beyond mental barriers and limitations. Finding a feather can be a way to help your mind see the larger picture and clear out the clutter that might block a path.

In Native American cultures, feathers have played a large part in sacred ceremonies and dances because of their implied connection to the divine. The ornate costumes of many Native American cultures, such as those used during powwows, include feathers, as well as their use in decorating weapons, tools, jewelry and dreamcatchers, to show honor.

The Iroquois even have a Great Feather Dance. Performed during the Midwinter ceremony in January, this dance is held to give thanks to the Creator for all they have been blessed with during the year.

White feathers, like those from a white-tailed ptarmigan, represent purity and cleansing. (Dawn Wilson/Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

In other Native American cultures, feathers were used on the ends of sticks to sway in the wind as a way to send prayers to the gods or offerings to their ancestors. Some cultures use feathers in hunting rituals to bring blessings from guardian angels for a successful hunt.

In Christianity, feathers have represented protection. Psalm 91:4 of the Bible says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Angels are depicted with large wings made of ornate, white feathers.

Specific colors of feathers also hold special meaning.

White feathers represent the purest angels sending you peace, love and protection and can represent cleansing of negative energy.

Feathers in shades of pink, being the color of unconditional love, represent health, balance between needs and wants, and messages of love and support forever from those watching over you.

Orange feathers represent creativity and could be a sign of encouragement to follow a creative path.

Blue represents the color of communication and acceptance so finding a blue feather represents an angel asking you to listen, be patient or a nudge towards inspiration.

Grey feathers, which are the middle color between white and black, represent the balance of opposing forces and thus represent hope, harmony, calmness and clarity.

Brown feathers represent the color of earth, being stable, grounded and safe, so their significance correlates to making healthy, responsible choices.

Black feathers are signs of protection from those looking over you, especially during rough or changing times. Black represents an angel being in defense mode to keep away evil, negativity and other forces trying to stop you from achieving your goals. Black feathers have also long been associated with wisdom, and therefore represent guidance, either seeking it out or listening to that which you have received.

I picked up that black feather and put it in the hanging flowerpot basket I have above my work desk. I now see it every day and use it as a reminder to keep chugging along on the path to the goals I have, to stay focused and keep my dreams in check.

Dawn Wilson is a professional and award-winning nature photographer and writer who lives in Estes Park year-round. You can see more of her work, join one of her Rocky tours, purchase prints and calendars, or suggest future topics at

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