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All About Feathers Launch the immersive All About Feathers Interactive Feature.
In All About Feathers we’ve brought together the most important concepts in feather biology with beautiful multimedia content using an interactive format. Immerse yourself in a new way to learn biology by exploring our six part interactive feature.
What is Unique to Birds?
What physical characteristic is unique to birds? You may think of beaks, feathers, wings, laying eggs, or walking on two legs. All of these are important elements of bird anatomy, but only one of them sets birds apart from all other living creatures.Go directly to section: What is Unique to Birds?
How Feathers Are Built
Light, flexible, strong, and colorful, feathers are impressive structures. Although feathers come in an amazing array of types, they are all made up of the same basic parts that have evolved small modifications to serve different functions. Downy feathers have a loosely arranged structure that helps trap air close to the bird’s warm body. The structure of other feathers features a small alteration that makes a big difference; microscopic hooks that interlock to form a wind and waterproof barrier that allows birds to fly and stay dry.Go directly to section: How Feathers Are Built
What Feathers Do
Each feather on a bird’s body is a finely tuned structure that serves an important role in the bird’s activities. Feathers help birds fly, but they also help them show off, blend in, stay warm, and keep dry. Some feathers have evolved as specialized airfoils for efficient flight. Others have developed into extreme ornamental forms that may even hinder mobility. Often we can readily tell how a feather functions, but sometimes the role of a feather is mysterious and we need a good scientific study to fill in the picture.Go directly to section: What Feathers Do
Feathers Through Time
How did feathers evolve? From the fossil record, we know that birds evolved from dinosaurs, some of which had feathers. But those first feathers had nothing to do with flight—they probably helped dinosaurs show off, hide, or stay warm. Scientists recently worked out a hypothesis to explain how complex flight feathers could have evolved. They probably began as simple tufts, or so-called “dino fuzz”, and then gradually developed into interlocking structures capable of supporting flight.Go directly to section: Feathers Through Time
Meet a Feather Scientist
Feathers that have evolved into musical instruments? This may sound like an outrageous idea, but the male Club-winged Manakins of Central and South America use a highly-modified feather structure to sing a powerful one-note tune. Strong selection on these males to attract females has made them unique in the bird world, but it took many years of scientific investigation to figure out how their singing wings work.Go directly to section: Meet a Feather Scientist
Think About Feathers
Take a minute to reflect on what you've learned about feathers.How does the structure of wing feathers support flight? How does the structure of down work to insulate the bird? How did a close look at feather growth inspire new discoveries about feather evolution?Go directly to section: Think About Feathers