What’s This Post About?
Birds are born naked without any feathers. It is overtime that they grow feathers of different shapes, sizes, and colors. The process is not simple; it takes a long time for them to grow their feathers ultimately, involving different reactions and procedures on the way.
If you look up the kinds of birds found worldwide, you may come up with thousands of species, all with different physical characteristics and unique features. However, features that remain consistent across all birds are beaks, feet, feathers, and the fact that they lay eggs.
All birds do have feathers. Feathers are necessary for birds for various reasons such as to keep them warm and allow them to fly. Having feathers, however, does not mean that all birds can fly.
What Are Feathers?
Fur or feathers? What do birds have?
Feathers are a unique feature found mainly in the animal kingdom. They are evolutionary and complex structures that evolve and grow directly from the animal’s skin. Feathers are distinctive features of birds that they got from their dinosaur ancestors. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
You will never see humans roaming around with ingrown feathers. The diversity of feathers in terms of forms and colors is a remarkable sight to witness. In addition, the intricate details of these fluffy structures make them extremely attractive.
Feathers do play a crucial role in a bird’s life. Their structure is what supports the functions that they provide. Keep reading to get a hold of everything you need to know about feathers.
A bird's feathers weigh more than its skeleton.
Have you ever wondered how did feathers come into being? The answer to this question is provided by a study that proposed how feathers are evolved through the introversion of the epidermis around the root of a dermal papilla. This scientific process further added complex functions and forms to these structures.
Feathers were present even before birds were discovered. Animals grew feathers, but there was no concept of flight. The feathers in the old days only functioned to provide warmth, water repellency, and interaction.
In the ancient era of dinosaurs, feathers were present in many forms, mainly on theropod dinosaurs. At the end of the Cretaceous period, dinosaurs with feathers did not survive, but the birds did. This is how the birds carried the feather legacy with them.
Feathers share similar features with a human's hair.
We have seen a variety of feathers in many forms. However, all these feathers comprise one main element that is: beta-keratin. Beta-keratin is a form of protein that combines with other basic structures to form the feather.
Talking about the structure, the calamus (base of the feather) stretches into a central rachis (the stiff shaft) which transitions into barbs (branches of the shaft) and then into the barbules (secondary branch of a feather) via small hooks.
The basic structure is the same for all feathers. Minor changes may take place to enhance the functions, colors, or form of the feather.
Feathers might appear fluffier if they have a loose, non-interlocking structure to keep the bird warm. If a bird’s feather structure is stiff and interlocking, the bird may have a water and windproof body. A bird can also be a mixture of both.
Feathers can foster light.
What Is the Role of Feathers for A Bird?
We have read about the formation of a feather. Let us now look into the functions it performs for the birds.
Feathers perform many functions, which is why they are essential for a bird. They allow the birds to fly, stay warm, keep dry, look pretty, attract the opposite gender, etc. The shape and size decide the efficiency of each function.
Different features on a bird’s body perform different functions. Similarly, each feather is organized and structured to support various roles for the bird’s activities.
The male sandgrouse is a bird species that can use its belly feathers to carry water.
Some feathers are so colorful that they add beauty to the appearance of the bird. Modified feathers, especially the ones on the head, are used mainly for courtship display. Male birds, to attract females, elevate their crest feathers by deploying the muscles present under the skin.
While some feathers might be displayed to attract or seduce other birds, others may be used to express anger or aggression. For instance, a blue jay may keep its crest low when they are calm and resting but elevate it as soon as they get defensive or aggressive towards something or someone.
The feathers on a bird’s body also play a massive role in keeping them safe. The colorful patterns on the feathers may help create camouflage for them in forests. In addition, some birds have a color similar to tree branches or leaves, which might help them hide or fool predators.
Birds like the Potoo tend to close their eyes and take a position in one of the trees to trick the predators by appearing like a tree extension. Moreover, green parrots also hide in green trees during their foraging trips.
The wings of birds are covered with feathers and these wing feathers are what allows the birds to fly. The remiges of the primary and secondary wing feathers attached to the bone are connected with solid tissues known as ligaments. These ligaments make sure that the wings can withstand the wind pressure for a safe flight.
The outer wing is covered with long flight feathers (primaries) that the bird can control according to the direction they want to go in. The inner half of the wing consists of feathers (secondaries) that cannot be held; they only provide a grip for the bird to move smoothly across the air.
Many young songbirds are born naked. They require heat from the parents to stay warm and cozy. The parents huddle together with the young ones in the nest to provide them with insulation.
The parents stay insulated because of the fluffy feathers that provide them with heat against the cold weather. For birds that remain in the water, such as swans or common Loons, feathers act as a waterproof layer that makes survival easy.
What Are the Different Types of Feathers?
A bird’s body is covered with many kinds of feathers, each with a specific purpose.
Different types of feathers cover the body of a bird. The categories are wing feathers, tail, contour, semi plume, filoplume, and down feathers. The feathers can be classified under one of these seven categories based on where they are located and their structure.
Feathers get their color through various pigments, some that are present and some that are consumed.
The wing feathers are made explicitly for flight. They consist of windproof surfaces on each side of the central shafts. The shafts are designed with an inter-locking microstructure which will help the bird fly smoothly.
These feathers have an asymmetric shape with a short edge that helps avoid midair bending.
These are tiny fluffed-up feathers found beneath the other feathers. Semiplumes do not give an interlocking structure which deprives them of hooks on the barbules leading to a fluffy design.
These feathers are organized in an overlapping pattern and are used to cover the bird’s body. The tips of these feathers are waterproof as these feathers are exposed to earthy elements.
Mostly, these feathers are what shapes a bird’s features. They are filled with different colors and can help the bird with displaying courtship or forming a camouflage.
The contour feathers on the wings are known as coverts.
The name itself defines the look of these feathers. These are long, fragile feathers with stiff rachis. They mostly grow on the head and may protect the bird’s face and eyes.
Tail feathers are known as rectrices. They have an interlocking structure that does not make them fluffy. They are organized in a fan shape and support the bird’s steering when in flight.
Birds usually have six feathers on their tail, all of which are asymmetrical towards the outer pairs. For some bird’s tails, feathers do not support them in flight and may just be used for showing off.
The longest tail feathers belong to a bird called Onagadori Cocks.
These fluffy feathers have a very loose structure with little or no rachis present. These feathers are short and are located closest to the body as they help in trapping the heat.
These feathers play a crucial role in keeping the birds warm.
The Filoplume feathers are short with a few soft barbs. Their function is to sense the position of the contour feathers.
These feathers have sensory functions and are used to detect the air movements around them.
Are All Birds Born with Feathers?
Adult birds are covered with many feathers, but are they born the same way?
The young birds of different bird species are born precocial or altricial. This determines whether the hatched bird will have feathers or not. Altricial species are born naked without feathers, such as songbirds. At the same time, precocial species are born with feathers such as chicken, ducks, etc.
Through the process of molting, birds replace their feathers at least once a year.
These types of birds are ground-nesting birds. They are born with open eyes, small feathers, and the ability to feed and run independently.
The feathers keep them insulated. The abilities that they are born with are crucial for their survival. If these birds cannot move around with their parents, they might be at risk of getting scooped up by predators.
Some examples of precocial birds are:
Precocial birds have more clutches of eggs than altricial birds.
Altricial birds are quite the opposite. They are born naked with their eyes closed. These birds usually nest high above the ground and need time to gain strength, sight, and feathers.
The nests are away from the predator’s reach, which provides a safe environment for the baby birds. The nestlings take up to 14 weeks to develop the strength for flight and become independent.
Some examples of altricial birds are:
All songbirds are altricial birds.
Are There Any Featherless Birds?
We have discovered and seen various birds with feathers, let us delve into the birds that are born but stay featherless.
Featherless birds do not exist. All wild birds have some feathers attached to their bodies because, without feathers, they would be unable to fly.
However, some birds have feathers that look like small hair, which leads to people thinking that this bird does not have any feathers.
Feathers are necessary to fulfill essential functions for a bird’s living. The main reasons have already been discussed in the post.
In addition, adult birds go through a molting period where they shed their feathers. This period comes at least once a year, through which the bird may lose some or all of its feathers. However, these feathers are replaced after the breeding season.
As mentioned before, feathers in some birds look like tiny hairs, which might lead to the belief that featherless birds exist. However, this statement is not valid. Some birds that may have little feathers but are believed to be featherless are discussed ahead.
These birds might be called featherless but they are beautiful. If you ever come across any, try capturing them in a frame if you’re an avid bird watcher. Consider purchasing the Kimire Digital Camera Recorder for this purpose.
The video camera is useful to take beautiful footage which can also be shared on your YouTube channel.
Ravens can mimic human sounds and speech.
Vultures can be divided into many subspecies. The Torgo vulture is species that do not have any feathers on their heads. The lack of feathers is a result of the type of feed they consume. These birds primarily feed on dead animals.
Their diet causes their feathers to stain, and the head feathers might not stay clean with all the fluids of the dead animal. This is why Torgo vultures do not have head feathers.
Vultures are silent birds and can only hiss, growl, or snarl.
In the case of the fregata magnificens, they have a featherless neck. This is because the frigates carry with them an ingrown gular pouch that is bright red.
The gular pouch inflates during the courtship displays.
It takes a Frigate thirteen days to build a nest.
Kiwi is a bird with tiny wing development, which is why they can not fly. This bird has many down feathers that did not evolve due to adaptation.
Kiwi’s have bristles that have different tones of brown. They do not have fully developed feathers which is why they are often thought to be featherless birds.
Kiwis are called 'honorary mammals'.
The common features that are present in all bird species are feathers, feet, and beaks. This post consists of information highlighting the importance of feathers in a bird’s life. Without feathers, birds may not be able to perform their daily activities.
On the contrary, some birds are often mistaken for being featherless which raises questions about if there are any featherless birds in the animal kingdom. However, that is not the case.
Birds do have feathers, but they might vary in size, shape, color, and form. Although, it takes time for certain bird species to develop feathers, but they all do have feathers while others might not have some on their heads or necks.
If you want to read another interesting post, don’t miss out reading on what time do birds go to sleep to know about their lifestyle habits.
Do you ever wonder if the birds also sleep at night as you do? If so, how can you sometimes hear them at night? Have they already woken up?
David A. Swanson
Bird Watching USA
My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!