This page shows the three main jobs that a feather performs for birds. Different kinds of feathers – down (insulation), flight, and display– are shown. Click on any of them to see that kind of feather explained, and to see how different animals use different adaptations to do the same job.



The feather is the one thing that makes a bird unique from all other animals.Not flight, not eggs. All an animal needs is one feather and it is considered a bird. Feathers not only help a bird to fly, they also keep a bird warm and dry. Feathers are also an excellent form of camouflage. Most birds even use their feathers for mate selection and courtship displays. A few other minor roles that feathers can serve for birds are egg incubation, balancing on the ground and in flight, and lining the inside of their nests. There are six main types of feathers: flight/body contour, down, filoplume, semiplume, and bristle.

Most people do not know how feathers actually come in on a bird’s body. The feather always starts with a protective sheath and the feather barbs and vane grow out from that. Showing a feather separating and sealing with the barbs would also be nice. This would show how and what one of the reasons is for preening.)

Feathers are made out of keratin, which is the same protein that hair, nails, claws, and horns are made out of. Keratin gives feathers flexibility and strength. Just like hair fully grown feathers are dead cells, because after they grow out they no longer need a blood supply. Whenever a feather is worn and broken it is molted out so that a new feather can grow in its place. It is very important for birds to have strong and healthy feathers since they serve so many different purposes.

Preening is the way that birds keep their feathers healthy and strong. Birds run their beak along the length of the feather to seal up any tears, pick out any dirt or insects, and spread preening oil over the surface of the feather. Preening oil is useful for conditioning the feather vane as well as water proofing it.

  Hunters & Hunted
  What's for Lunch?
  How's the Water
  Beaks are Tools
  Backyard Birdfeeder
  Shapes & Sizes
  Lift Off
  A Big Enough Wing
  Migration Hopscotch
  Sing Out Loud
  Virtual Incubator
  Dance of Love
  On the Egg
  Becoming a Bird
The Big Deal: The Feather
  Dead or Alive
  Are Birds Dinosaurs?

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