Birds’ Feathers Are Like Velcro & Other Fun Facts

feathers, bird feather

Photo via Flickr.

Feathers are one of the characteristics that all birds have in common.  How much do you really know about feathers?  What kinds are there?  How are they like velcro?

Birds are the one kind of animal that we are most likely to see anytime we go for a walk.  These fascinating animals can fly through the sky or float like a boat.  I wish I could fly through the sky like a bird!  Here are some fun facts about feathers that you may not know.

Feathers Do More Than Just Help Birds Fly

They serve a variety of purposes, including flight, warmth, to attract a mate, camouflage and to sense things.

Birds Have Three Main Kinds Of Feathers

All birds have three main kinds of feathers – down, flight, and sensory.  They not only look different, but they serve different purposes.

feathers, bird, like velcro

Notice how the barbs coming off the central quill stick together like velcro.  Photo via Flickr.

Birds Feathers’ Are Like Velcro

Yes, they are like velcro.  Velcro works because there are two sides that when connected stick together.  The same idea works for birds.

On each individual feather there is a main, central shaft (the quill).  From this there are small barbs that stick out.  Each barb has tiny barbules  and barbicels that stick out from opposite sides.  The tiny barbules or barbicels are designed so that they can stick to each other just like velcro.

Sensory Feathers

These have a long central quill with only a few small barbs at the end.  They function similar to a mammal whisker.  These are used by the bird to sense the position of the other feathers.

Flight Feathers

These are larger, stiffer, and have the velcro type of structure.  The velcro type structure keeps the feather stiff to allow birds to fly and helps to shed water.

feathers, down, goose, bird

A goose down feather. Photo via Flickr.

Down Feathers

These are small, and tend to be very soft since they do not have any barbules on them.  These feathers are close to the body of the bird and help keep the bird warm.  Some sleeping bags, duvets, and jackets have down feathers inside of them.  The down does a great job of keeping in heat and keeping the bird or person warm.

Birds Molt At Least Once A Year

Yes, at least once a year birds will replace some or all of their feathers.  This is done for different reasons.  You can read about why birds molt here.