Feathers on a Fowl

By Dave Hanks

“It’s the feathers on a fowl that makes him big; (so the Seminole Indian saying goes) catch him and pluck him, and you’ll be surprised at his diminished size.”

All primates have thumbs. All rodents have “buck-teeth”. All ungulates have hooves, and birds – feathers. Not all birds can fly, and birds are not the only animals that lay eggs. So, it’s the feathers that define a bird. Feathers are very important: from the large primaries used in flight, to the smaller secondary feathers that streamline and add color, to the tiny, fluffy down feathers that insulate and retain body heat. These three features are basic essentials. But, feathers serve other uses. The fluffing of feathers in cold weather traps air and helps keep the bird warm, and fluffing also increases the look of one’s size to act as a deterrent to an enemy. Special colors advertise territory and attract mates.

Feather positioning is an important body language used to communicate intentions. The Cardinal’s crest can either indicate aggression or submission – depending on whether it is raised or lowered. The white chest feathers on a Sage Grouse are strong stimuli when the air sacs that they cover are extended. The Horned Lark utilizes its head feathers to indicate his intentions, and what is more noticeable than the plumage of the Snowy Egret at nesting time.

There are so many species of birds; so much diversity in their colors, sizes, and shapes, and so much variation in the way they use their plumages – it makes me wonder how anyone cannot be fascinated by these glorious creatures.

Pictured: Northern Cardinal – Sage Grouse – Horned Lark – Snowy Egret