What is a bird? The answer is simple – a feathered animal!

Feathers are found in all birds, yet no other animals have them. The discovery of fossils of small feathered dinosaurs revealed that birds are the only surviving descendants of those animals that dominated life on Earth for over 100 million years.


Snow Bunting by Bill Thompson Public Domain via Flickr

Feathers probably evolved as a covering to keep birds warm, because like the mammals (including humans), birds are ‘warm-blooded’.


But most birds also need to fly, so their covering must be light-weight.


Indeed, feathers are the lightest natural material for their size.

The wings of birds, unlike those of bats and insects, are formed by feathers, which overlap and stop air from leaking through when a bird flaps during flight.


The feathers of penguins are very short as they cannot fly, and baby birds have soft ‘down’ which are feathers that lack a shaft or quill.

Text © Richard Noske 2019 CC BY-NC-SA

Thrush: Upper Wing by L. Shyamal CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia

More fabulous feathers

from Australia and other places

A Mallard duck displays its wing feathers in a pond in Bushy Park, Dublin.
A pink flamingo at the San Francisco Zoo in San Francisco, California, USA.
A macro shot of a Macaw's feathers.
Pennaceous feathers by the Eurasian jay in Hanover, Germany.
A group of Emperor penguins, the largest of all penguins.
Peacock feather
Sierra, a golden eagle who lives at the San Francisco zoo
Shoulder feather detail on an Amazon parrot
Cygnus wing feathers in the sun
These tail feathers, or coverts, spread out in a distinctive train that is more than 60 percent of t
Magpie Goose taking off, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory, Australia
Emu feathers
Bronzewing pigeon feather
Grey feathers

Except where otherwise noted, text for individual bird species is the copyright of Richard Noske and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International

Learning Sequences and related Student Activity Sheets are the copyright of Marie Bermingham and Val Catchpoole and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International

All audio is used under Creative Commons licences as noted.

Except where otherwise noted, all illustrations are the copyright of Elissa Kimber, all rights reserved.

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