Feathers Equal Flight
By Gail Cochrane
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
The miracle of birds lies in their ability to fly, and maybe we’ve become a little ho hum about that. But really, how amazing that birds soar – in pursuit of prey, across continents and oceans, and in stunning courtship displays. How do they do it?
With skeletons made up of hollow bones, birds are super light for their size. Even teeth have been sacrificed to lighten the load. And, of course, wings come in handy for flying creatures.
But largely it’s all about feathers. Feathers are nothing short of astounding in their ability to send birds soaring and to protect them from the elements. Feathers provide camouflage, warmth, dryness, communication, and most incredibly, aerodynamic flight.
Although every feather is made up of the protein beta keratin, there are a number of different types of feathers. Many have minuscule hooks that interlock, forming a barrier to wind and water. These feathers power flight and keep birds dry. Others, worn closer to the body, are downy. These very soft feathers trap air close to the warmth of the bird’s body.
These are the seven types of feathers:
Long stiff wing feathers are windproof, with an interlocking structure that provides lift in flight. Tail feathers are used for steering. Most birds have six pairs of tail feathers arranged in a fan shape with the two central tail feathers attached to the bone. These feathers also have an interlocking microstructure.
Contour feathers cover the bird’s body in an overlapping pattern like shingles on a roof. These are waterproof and interlocking at the ends, but downy close to the body. Coverts are contour feathers growing on wings, smoothing the area where the flight feathers are attached to bone, thus contributing to aerodynamics.
Semiplumes grow underneath the other feathers and provide a fluffy layer of warmth and insulation close to the body of the bird. Filoplumes are short sensory feathers that provide awareness of the position of contour feathers. Bristle feathers are mostly found on the head, protecting the eyes and providing tactile sensation around the mouth.
It is the combination of these specialized feathers that gives birds the wondrous ability to leave solid ground and travel so gracefully near and far.
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
edited by Steven J. Phillips and Patricia Wentworth Comus
What is that Bird?!?
By Claudia Kirscher
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Birds have varying patterns of coloration, so much so that the members of a species may look very different from another of the same species. In birds, these are referred to as morphs and phases. They tend to be geographic in variation with regional differences. This occurs primarily in raptors and water birds.
A color morph is considered to be permanent whereas color phases are temporary and change over time, especially from juvenile to adult (dark to light or light/white to dark). Birds have other individual differences such as shading of coloration of feathers, streaking, wing bars, size, etc.
Coloration is related to melanin which is a dark brown to black pigment in feathers, skin, and iris of eyes.
A melanistic bird has an increased amount of black or nearly black pigmentation in feathers, beak, legs, and cere.
Leucistic birds can have a wide variety of conditions that result in partial loss of pigmentation causing white, patchy, or pale coloration of the skin and feathers but not the eyes which remain normal color as do the beak, cere, and legs.
An albino bird has a reduction or absence of the pigment melanin in the eyes, skin, cere, and legs which are pinkish in color. The feathers are overall white.
The next time you see an unusual bird, take a second look and think morph, phase, and pigmentation, you might be surprised!
Ref: Audubon.org, merriam-webster, Wikipedia, Peregrine Fund, Cornell Labs
By Carol Suits
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
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Did You Know?
IF IT HAS FEATHERS, IT’S A BIRD!
Birds are the only living creatures with feathers. Feathers are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up a bird’s beak, lizard scales, mammal hair, human fingernails, animal hooves, and horns! Feathers help birds fly and keep them warm and dry. The color pattern of feathers, called “plumage,” can help birds stay camouflaged or find mates.
Look at this great website, All About Feathers. You get to see why feathers are so cool. It has a guessing game in part 3 and shows where feathers came from in part 4. There is a bird that has a musical instrument on its back called the Club-winged Manakin in part 5. Check out videos that show how it uses feathers to make sound.
Which bird has the most feathers? Which one has the least?
What happens when a bird gets wet? Do feathers help keep it dry?
How do feathers help a bird stay warm on a cold night? https://www.birdnote.org/show/birds-cold-night
Read about how feathers of all shapes and sizes help birds with warming or cooling, protect them from the sun, help them swim, glide or even dig. Feathers are not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah Brannen. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17870871-feathers
Owls Inspire Technology Through Biomimicry
By Aranza Blanca
Liberty Wildlife Intern
Owls are known to be one of the most silent predators, although the reasons for their ability to do so aren’t fully known. There are many theories as to how the structure and workings of their wings make this incredible feat possible.
The three main characteristics that allow for such silent flight include their leading edge serrations, trailing edge fringes, and their velvet-like feathers. Leading edge serrations are located on the front edge of the wings. They have a comb-like shape that breaks up and decreases the noise of the airflow that occurs while they flap their wings. As the airflow moves to the back of the wings, the trailing edge fringes soften and decrease the noise even further. Lastly, the velvet-like feathers that cover their wings and body absorb any remaining noise when they are in flight. With this, researchers are now taking inspiration from these unique characteristics and the abilities they provide to further technological advances, specifically with noise and turbulence reduction and efficiency in wind turbines, aircrafts, and drones.
Biomimicry is the process in which we take inspiration from functions of nature and apply it and attempt to mimic them in order to help solve a human-related problem. In this case, it’s trying to mimic the flight silence that an owl can achieve and mimicking it to apply it towards the human problem of noise and turbulence reduction and efficiency of modern-day, wind-reliant technology. Although research is still ongoing, it has been shown that mimicking, particularly the leading edge serrations, and applying it to the aircraft wings or blades of the wind turbines and drones has effectively reduced noise and turbulence disturbances and increased overall efficiency. This is significant as it will allow for a decrease in noise pollution in specifically drones and aircrafts and an increase in cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and the overall sustainable reliance on clean energy alternatives such as wind turbines.