For the full experience, make sure to visit this Interactive again on a larger screen.

You can explore the same topic in an easy-to-read Bird-ology Article or you can continue to the Interactive Feature.

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.

Sections inside:

  • 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
  • dee Miller

    Is this site available in french? My kids would love to study this, but in french. Is there a link visible?

    • Mya

      We do not have a French version at the moment, though we have discussed ways to get the content translated. In the meantime, I hope that your kids can enjoy the visuals. We have prioritized creating high quality illustrations and scientific graphics so that people from all over the world can learn some of the content without relying on the words.

  • Aidan

    This is a beautiful website and really user friendly. I happen to have a feather specific question: how many feathers are on a bird? does this number vary depending on bird size?

    • Mya

      We’re glad you are enjoying the site. Smaller songbirds have roughly 1,000-3,000 feathers while the larger swans can have up to 25,000. For a detailed account, you can look up an article titled The Number of Contour Feathers in Passeriform and Related Birds in the Auk from April 1936.

  • berrybasket

    This is wonderful! I’m currently reading Gill’s ‘Ornithology’ and here we have the same information from the early chapters in a really simplified, clear presentation. What a fine introduction to bird biology!

  • Lauren Hanberry

    Wow! Thank you Cornell Lab for this fantastic site! My university currently does not have an ornithology course for undergraduates, so I’m thrilled to be able to supplement my education with these resources from your prestigious institution. My thanks!

  • Jayesh

    This is really fantastic. Thanks a lot. Already waiting for next topic.

  • Sarah Tynan

    I like birding! It’s so fun!

  • Sarah Tynan

    I love birds! :)

  • Thomas Hamel

    Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson
    is an entertaining read packed with things you will want to share.

    Also, The Feather Atlas at US Fish and Wildlfe is an amazing resource:

    Last, DO NOT collect feathers. Not only is it illegal to collect feathers of most birds in the US (Migratory Bird Treaty Act; 16U.S.C. 703-712), it disturbs ecosystems. Birds re-use feathers in nests (ditto snakeskins, a prime nesting material – leave them on the ground, too). Feathers are protein and many organisms digest them. You rarely see a feather on the ground in the tropics – ants pick them up immediately.

    Enjoy feathers, examine them, photograph or draw them and then leave them where you find them.

    If you want to legally possess feathers, permits can be obtained.

    • Sarah Mihelich

      Thank you for the info! I had no idea it was illegal, and had never thought about ramifications to the ecosystem.

  • Theresa Douglas

    I would love to be able to identify feathers I have collected. Can you add a feature for feather identification to this wonderful site?

    • Mya

      Thanks for your suggestion, we’ll certainly consider it. If you’d like a good resource immediately, my favorite book for identifying feathers from North America is Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland. As a reminder to all our readers, in the United States it is illegal to collect the feathers of most birds without a permit (Migratory Bird Treaty Act; 16U.S.C. 703-712). Here is a link outlining the regulations and permitting process:

  • Gustavo

    Great videos! Congratulations from Uruguay.

  • James

    Being retired and limited…your website has been an absolute gift from God. In years past and growing up my family and I have always respected and interacted with birds. This bird biology is just fantastic…the depth you have shown…..I thank you for the joy your site brings me, keep up your extraordinary work with God’s gift of birds! gratefully yours, James

  • Margit

    Wow — this is an amazing work! As is All about Birds wasn’t enough! Thank you!! I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough to explore it all on her own for her homeschooling. She is three and already ‘crazy’ about birds :))…received a small pair of EO binocs for her birthday and is having fun learning to use them! Birds bring us such joy!!!

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  • Sarah Tynan

    Birds of paradise are so cool!

    • Savannah Whittington

      You should learn all the Maine’s birds!!!! :-D

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  • Eric Prawel

    Pathology question.
    Can anybody out there help me with a 16 yr old Duvenvode’s lory?
    For the past two years she has been steadily scratching at her head and neck to the point of feather loss.
    I have taken her multiple times to the University of Georgia vet teaching hospital, so all usual diagnostics have been ruled out.

  • a

    why we don’t feather

  • tayee b(toyeebah)

    i learnt a lot from this website….that’s nice