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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How many feathers does a bird have?

Scarlet Tanager
A typical bird has between 2000 and 4000 feathers. The feathers all start out as living tissue, complete with a blood supply. After they’re formed, however, the blood shuts off and the feathers remain, sort of like our hair or fingernails – basically dead structures.

Birds' feathers are key to two very crucial features of birds; warm-bloodedness and flight.

To a scientist, a bird’s feathers have all sorts of names such as “flight feathers”, “primary feathers” and things called “filoplumes”. Basically, however, all feathers fit into just two categories: “down feathers” and “contour feathers”.

Loosely arranged down feathers trap large amounts of air, which insulate the bird’s body well. This enables keeps the bird’s body warm and allows warm-bloodedness. Contour feathers help promote flight by smoothing the bird’s body, and making it aerodynamic, allowing flight. These are mainly on the outside of a bird.

That’s all good to know. But all most of us really care about is that birds’ feathers make them pretty and colorful. (There’s a science-based reason for that too!)

Magnolia Warbler

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.