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The Feathers

Some Feather Facts

  • Some feathers particularly in the more primitive orders have a secondary smaller and less complicated shaft arising from the based of the calamus, this is called an aftershaft.
  • Feathers are made of keratin, a protein which is also used to make horn and hair by different animals and beaks by birds.
  • Owls have the outer ends of their flight feathers lacking in barbules, i.e.they are unzipped - this makes the edges softer and reduces the noise they make, silent flight helps an owl catch its prey.
  • In primitive birds the feathers appear to grow at random all over the body, but in most orders the feathers appear in well defined patterns of rows or tracts called pterylae.
  • The number of feathers a bird has depends very much on its size and where and how it lives, in general a third of a birds feathers are on its head.
  • The bird with the least feathers is the Ruby Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) with only 940 feathers in total
  • The bird with the most feathers is the Whistling Swan (Cygnus columbianus) which can have as many as 25,000 during winter.
  • The longest feathers in the world belong to an ornamental chicken bread in Japan in 1972, this specimen had tail feathers 10.59m long.
  • The longest feathers of a wild bird belong to the Crested Argus Pheasant (Rheinhartia ocellata) which commonly reach lengths of 173cm.

Most information on this page was contributed by EarthLife.

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Last updated: 01 January 2003