Feathers: Form and Function

Learn about he complex structure of feathers and the different ways they're used by birds.

November 12, 2020

Listen to the Episode

Feathers: Form and Function


The feather is one of the most iconic symbols of nature. Feathers are indispensable to birds, serving many critically important functions. 

In this episode, we explore those functions after looking closely at the anatomy—the structure—of a feather.

We discuss the 6 types of feathers: contour feathers, flight feathers, down, semiplumes, bristles, and filoplumes.

Some functions we explore are flight, insulation, and camouflage.

Links of Interest

Errors and Clarifications

  • Error - At 00:44, I used the word ‘historic,’ when I should have said ‘historical.’
  • Error - At 06:13, I goofed on the word ‘stratum,’ saying ‘strateum’ by accident.


Relevant Photos

Electron micrograph of feather barbs (dark horizontal lines) and barbules (diagonal lines) with hooklets (wavy, frayed ends on upper barbules). Public domain photo.
Common Eider male (Somateria mollissima). Public domain photo.
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) displaying bristle feathers, which serve as eyelashes. Elegant contour feathers radiate from the back of the head, functioning as a display. Stock photo by Johan Swanepoel.
Club-winged Manakin males (Machaeropterus deliciosus). Left photo by Francesco Veronesi; right photo by Michael Woodruff.
Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), displaying its incredibly camouflaged plumage. Photo by Ivan Phillipsen.

This work by Ivan Phillipsen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


Get updates about new podcast episodes, articles, and other bird-related goodies!

Thank you! Please check your email to complete the last step.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.