Quite the Feather(s) in Their Cap

I’ll get to the winner of Janet Fox’s book in just a minute. (Go here if you’re totally confused by that statement.) But first, Happy Chinese New Year! (And post-Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry, Panthers fans.)

500_F_92701992_OEpj6F8cslLat2ABI7lazQh02vobfZPt  super-bowl-50

Second, I’d like to discuss something that has fascinated me lately: birds have a lot of feathers. (It’s okay if you suddenly realize you have somewhere else to be or some urgent laundry to fold. I’ll keep going, even if I wind up talking to myself.) For example, did you know that bald eagles have over seven thousand feathers? Yes. They do. A tundra swan, however, has around 25,000. Ha! In your face, eagles! Songbirds like a sparrow might have between one thousand and four thousand feathers. And get this: close to 40 percent of those feathers are located around the head and neck. A swan, however, might have 80 percent of its feathers in that region. There is a good reason for that.

Bald-Eagle-2 Eurasian_Tree_Sparrow-Manado


Have you taken a closer look at a bird’s feather lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed that, depending on type of the feather (tail, wing, down, contour, filoplume, and so on), it was either very smooth or downy. Perhaps it was both.


The smooth feather or feather part (pennaceous) has interlocking barbules that zip together neatly. Kinda like Velcro, according to some internet sites. You can only see this aspect at the microscopic level. The downy feather or feather part (plumulaceous) is a lot fluffier. But the pennaceous part is what gives a bird wind and water resistance. Feathers insulate a bird against the cold. This is why a large percent of their feathers are located at their heads and necks—for brain protection in cold weather.

Feathers are made of beta-keratin. Birds secrete an oil that helps feathers stay flexible and waterproof so they don’t become waterlogged and sink! A bird preens its feathers to spread the oil and rehook the unhooked barbules of feathers. And all this time I thought preening had a negative connotation, thanks to its use with vain humans. Perhaps that image seems particularly apt because the barbed part of a feather is called the vane.


Go here for a great video on a preening bird. (Sorry. I had trouble embedding it.) But one video I could embed came from Cornell Lab’s website, where Dr. Kim Bostwick talks about the male club-winged manakin and the amazing feathers of his wings. (There are actually several videos at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site. Go here for yet another one.)

A great website on birds and their feathers can be found here.

Now for the winner of a preorder of Janet Fox’s middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rooskill Castle, and the swag.

IMG_8226b CharmedChildrencover (1)

And that person, thanks to the random number generator, is




Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to confirm!

Balicassiao (Balicassiao)—Dicrurus balicassius balicassius/abraensis
Philippines, Laguna ML 461028 © 2016 Cornell University

Feather images from publicdomain.net and birdsoftheair.blogspot.com. Eagle from animalscamp.com. Swan feather from pixabay.com. Eurasian tree sparrow from Wikipedia. Chinese New Year image from fotolia.com. Super Bowl 50 image from overtimetkro.wordpress.com.

36 thoughts on “Quite the Feather(s) in Their Cap

  1. Love the video clip. I thought I knew heaps of stuff on birds, but learnt something new. Musical bird wings! Cool.

  2. Congratulations to Charles! Definitely a disappointing loss for us here in Panther land, but oh well, we gave it a shot.
    You know I love my birds. I particularly enjoy watching their feathers during snow or rain storms.

    • I thought of you as I wrote the post, Jill. Especially the info on the club-winged manakin and how fast he moves his wings.

      Yes, it was a sad loss. They tried. The poor quarterback was sacked so much!

  3. Congratulations Charles.
    just sat back down to comment after looking at my little collection of feathers, which are sitting in a vase, and watching our cockatiel, Maya, preen. I have always been fascinated with feathers, L. Marie. Now, thanks to this post, I am even more so. Loved this.

    • So glad, Penny. I was fascinated enough to spend hours reading up on them. So wonderful! I’m going to have to use this information in my story somehow.

      I’d love to see Maya preening. 🙂

  4. Interesting to learn more about feathers! It’s certainly something I’ve not thought much about before. In fact, I give birds too little of my attention in general. I should give them a little more of my time. 🙂

    • Carrie, though I love birds, I didn’t know much about them. Certainly nothing about their feathers and how well designed them are. Yet I always wondered how birds make it outside in the cold. We have geese here who never leave in the winter.

  5. What an interesting post! I love picking up odd bits of info as I travel around the blogosphere – thanks! Now I had noticed that kind of velcro effect (a previous generation of cats unfortunately gave me too many opportunities to look at feathers) but I had no idea that was why. Isn’t nature clever?

  6. We once kept a wild turkey feather in our car, but I sneezed so much, we had to take it away after a couple of months. We found it on our NC property and kept it to remind us of the place. Some reminder……..I once sneezed twenty times in succession WHILE DRIVING and had to pull over to avoid a wreck. 🙂

  7. In the past I taught what is stated above ( At this time I was a teacher in Biology and Geology) . Very interesting.
    I liked much the video even if my hearing in English spoken is very bad .
    L.Marie you made here an excellent lesson of sciences.
    In friendship

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