Feathers and Flight

Feathers are incredible! They cover the bodies of birds and help them to fly, but they’re great at keeping them warm. Even ostriches who don’t fly have amazing feathers. Here’s some amazing facts about feathers

Now watch a video to learn more about feathers.

Feathers are vital to birds for many reasons:

  • Birds use their feathers to help them fly.
  • Feathers are made of keratin, the same thing our hair and fingernails are made of. That makes them lightweight, but also flexible yet rigid enough to help them fly.
  • The muscles attached to the base of each feather allow the bird to move them as needed. When in flight, as a bird flaps its wings down, the feathers move together. Then, as the bird moves its wings up, the feathers move apart to allow air to pass through. The motion of the feathers aids in flight.
  • Some kinds of feathers, including down feathers help keep birds warm. Birds are able to trap pockets of air close to their bodies using these feathers, which allows them to stay warm.Sometimes when it's cold, you can see a bird fluffing its feathers. It does this to help trap more air, allowing them to stay warm.
  • Feathers are water resistant, which helps keep birds dry in the rain or in the water. Feathers, especially dark-coloured ones, even help protect against the sun.

Take a look at the Woodland Trust's Feather identification: Common Feathers in the UK link and learn how to recognise common feathers you might find.

Feathers are also a part of a bird's identity, so we can tell a blackbird, say from a thrush. Their feathers can help them attract a mate, or even to blend into the background.

Just like we shed our hair, birds do the same with their feathers. This is called moulting, as old and damaged feathers fall out to be replaced by new feathers.

This is part of the Birds information.