The Fly Dresser’s Birds


(In view of the protection now afforded to many wild birds, a number of those listed below as Fly Dresser’s Birds are of historical interest only. Dealers in fly tying materials will be able to advise in this matter.)


  In the following list the writer has endeavoured to set out all the birds whose feathers are found in the books, or in his experience, as being used for dressing small flies.   It would be absurd to pretend that all of them, or nearly all, are essential.   He has marked with an asterisk all which necessary for a good all-round modern collection, and with a double asterisk those, which no fly dresser should be without.


* Adjutant. - “The adjutant half turned his head, sheered a little . . . and landed stiffly on the sandbar below the bridge.   Then you saw what a ruffianly brute he really was.   His back view was immensely respectable, for he stood nearly 6ft. high, and looked rather like a proper bald-headed parson.   In front it was different, for his Ally Sloper-like head. and neck had not a feather to them, and there was a horrible raw skin pouch on his neck under his chin - a hold-all for the things his pick-axe beak might steal.   His legs were long and thin and skinny, but he moved them delicately, and looked at them with pride as he pressed down his ashy-grey tail feathers, glanced over the smooth of his should, and stiffened into ’Stand to attention ! ’”

  The above is Kipling’s description of the adjutant, an ill-looking bird, belonging to the cane family.   It is common enough in India, where it performs the office of scavenger, and is protected by law.  It is, therefore, somewhat difficult to obtain.  The aforesaid ashy-grey tail feathers and the pinions are the only parts useful to the fly dresser, being particularly serviceable to the dry-fly man.   The single strands of the feathers, stripped of their flue by catching the fine end between one’s thumb and a knife edge, and tearing of the whole flue in one movement, make excellent quills for the bodies of flies, dyed and undyed, being especially recommended by Mr. Halford for the body of a Red Spinner, dyed for the purpose in a sort of brick red. Mr. Halford also gives a pale Iron Blue under the title “Adjutant Blue.”


Bald Coot. - See Coot                                                    Barn Owl. - See Owl, Barn.

Black Amsel. - See Blackbird.


**Blackbird. - (Mavis, Black Ousel, or Amsel). - This is a very useful bird.   The primaries and secondaries work up very sweetly as wings.   The hen is much paler than the cock, and has a faint olive shade over the dull black brown of the body and wings.   She is the more useful of the two.   The correct pattern of Greenwell’s Glory is winged with hen blackbird, and a great many of the old patterns of Dark Olive used on the Itchen are similarly winged.   One of the books gives the tail of the hen for winging a fly.   There are a number of soft feathers both on the wings and bodies of both birds, which, though not quoted in the books, may be at times used with advantage for legs of dark flies, or alone as hackles.   A fine delicate feather under the wing of the cock, used hackle-wise, makes an excellent wing for a Red Spinner fished upstream, in rough, tumbling water.   The quills of the primaries, secondaries, and tail, stripped cleanly off, make excellent dark quill bodies.