Feather study

Look closely at feathers to understand how they are made. Sort feathers into types.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Lessons activity is in
  • feathers of different types (wing, body, tail, down)
  • magnifiers and/or microscope
  • drawing materials and paper

    Sorting feathers:
    Feathers can be sorted into types. The wing and tail feathers are long. The tail feathers have the hard tube or 'rachis' up the middle. On wing feathers the rachis is to one side. Both of these kind of feathers are used to push air and help the bird fly and change direction.
    Body feathers have fluffy barbs at the bottom of the feather which are for trapping air and insulating the bird.

    See these images for feather types:… (second image) or… (from
    See these images for which feathers are on which parts of a bird: and…

    Looking at feather structure:
    On a long wing or tail feather, gently pull the barbs (the hairs coming off the shaft), until they pull apart, then stroke them back together again.
    The barbs have little hooks (called barbules) that zip together and keep the feather in a flat plane. The flat plane can push air and help the bird fly and change direction.
    Look closely at feathers under the magnifier and microscope. Find the interlocking barbules along the barbs.

    Fluffy downy feathers do not have barbules. Their barbs float apart and form air pockets that are excellent for insulation.

    When birds preen, they pull their feathers through their beak to zip barbs together again.
    They also add oil, so that the feathers are waterproof.

    Grades taught
    Gr 1
    Gr 4