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  • A godwit in flight, with grey sky background.
    Rights: Associate Professor Phil Battley, Massey University Published 25 June 2021 Size: 94 KB Referencing Hub media

    Feathers are outgrowths of a bird’s skin and are lightweight and yet strong enough to withstand the force of moving air while the bird is in flight. There are three main types of feathers.

    Contour feathers are important to streamline a bird’s overall shape, helping the air to flow smoothly over its bodyline as it flies. These feathers have a central quill or shaft, and the fine divisions of the web are held firmly together by adjacent interlocking barbs and barbules. These are like a hook and eye system holding the fine strands of the feather together.

    Flight feathers are the long, very strong feathers attached to the leading edge of the wing and to the tail. Like the contour feathers, they have the barb and barbule hook system but the flight feathers have the quill closer to the leading edge rather than centred.

    Insulation or down feathers are the fluffy soft feathers that keep their flight muscles warm. Keeping the muscles warm improves their performance, and the down also insulates the bird, saving it from using energy to keep warm.

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