7 Surprising Facts About Feathers

Last Updated on April 3, 2022 by Cristina

Here are some facts about feathers – they’re closer to our hair and nails than you think! What makes them so powerful to be able to lift a whole bird is their structure. They’re light but dense and perfectly layered to protect and benefit the bird.

Hummingbirds have some of the most beautiful feathers among birds. If they frequently visit your garden, you can find a fallen feather once in a while. Their total number of feathers can exceed 1,000 in some cases, but they’re not all the same size.

Read on to learn some surprising facts about feathers.

Feathers Composition

So what are feathers made of? Feathers contain 80 to 90% keratin, a protein that we can find in human hair, skin, and nails. Unlike other proteins, keratin is highly resistant to tears, scratches, and breakage, which we can notice in our own bodies.

This is one of the most fascinating facts about feathers. If you ever wondered why are feathers so light, it’s all due to the simple composition.

Since keratin is the main ingredient, feathers can endure bad weather, strong winds, and fights. Small species like hummingbird shed their feathers once a year, replacing the damaged ones with a new set. This process is called molding, and larger birds can mold up to twice a year.

How Many Feathers Do Hummingbirds Have

Hummingbirds have between 940 and 1,000 feathers, depending on the type. The feathers are divided into a few sizes, and each has a specific role. Hummingbirds don’t have dense coats since they’re primarily migratory birds and live in warmer climates.

When Do Feathers Appear In Baby Birds

Once the baby birds hatch, they’re naked with no thermal insulation, so the mother is responsible for keeping them warm. The first feathers start appearing 2 weeks later. These are usually the tail and wing feathers. The baby hummingbird’s body is completely covered in 3 to 4 weeks.

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Different Types Of Feathers

Feathers and hair might share the composition, but they’re entirely different. Complicated feathers have the central bar called the rachis, which grows branches or barbs. The barbs divide into smaller units called barbules. The finished look is a sleek aerodynamic coat.

Hummingbirds have 10 primary feathers, settled in the outer half of the wing. These feathers are responsible for the forward thrust. Next, they have 6 to 7 secondary feathers located along the arm length and help the bird stay afloat in the air.

The tail feathers, which are 10 in hummingbirds, help with balance and control. They serve both as a steering wheel and a brake.

Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species

Facts About Feathers

Feathers And Water

One of the most mistaken facts about feathers is that they’re waterproof. The anatomy of the feathers and their layering protect the bird from different weather conditions like winds and rain.

The softest part, the down, quickly gets wet and heavy, so the outer feathers keep it dry. If hummingbirds get too soggy, they can’t fly, leaving them hungry and an easy target to predators.

So how do birds clean their feathers? The preening is among the most interesting facts about feathers. It’s the bird’s way of grooming, tidying up, and polishing the feathers using its beak.

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Can You Own Hummingbird Feathers?

If you stumble across a hummingbird feather, you can examine it for a minute, but you can’t keep it. These are the most disappointing facts about feathers. The Migratory Birds Treaty Act bans you from owning hummingbird feathers, eggshells, nests, or any other part, even if you found them dumped in your garden.

More Stuff About Birds And Their Feathers

1. Feathers Don’t Contain Pigment

Useful facts about feathers; their color doesn’t come from a specific pigment. The feathers’ top layer contains prism-like cells that reflect the light. This gives the feathers a diverse color when looked at from a different angle.

2. Females Have Dull Colors

Female hummingbirds’ feathers have evolved to protect them from predators. Since only the female lays the eggs and takes care of the young, she shouldn’t be easy to spot. That’s why in many species the males have iridescent feathers, while the females are beige and green.

Hummingbird Females Have Dull Colors

3. Males Use Their Feathers To Mate

Female hummingbirds pick their mate based on their feather color. In the hummingbird world, the females pick their partner, so you’ll notice how male hummingbirds go above and beyond to score. And it all comes down to their showy feathers!

4. Feathers Are Used As Fertilizer

Feathers are the perfect fertilizer for nitrogen-poor soil due to the high amount of protein. Other important facts about feathers are that they fully decompose with time so using them as fertilizer is a great way to manage waste.

5. Hummingbirds Have The Lowest Number Of Feathers

One of the most interesting facts about feathers is how their number varies among species. Most birds of prey like have 5,000 to 8,000 feathers. Swans have over 25,000, while penguins have the thickest coat with 100 feathers per square inch.

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6. Hummingbird Feathers Emit Sound

Hummingbird feathers hum! The buzzing sound coming from a hummingbird hovering over your flowers is their wings flapping. They move their wings with tremendous speed through the air, which produces a specific sound.

7. Birds Can Move Each Feather

Surprising facts about feathers: most birds can move them! Feathers are attached to the bird’s skin via follicles. Hair is attached to the human skin via follicles too, but there’s one significant difference; we can’t control the follicles. Birds have a network of nerves that allow them to control their feathers and move them wherever they want.

Birds Can Move Each Feather

Bottom Line: Facts About Feathers You Didn’t Know

Feathers are colorful, majestic, powerful, and hold so many secrets. Some facts about feathers, like their composition and number, might come as a shock.

Hummingbirds hold some of the most beautiful feathers in the animal kingdom, but you’re not allowed to keep them!


What are feathers made of?

The main ingredient in feathers is keratin, a lightweight and resistant protein. It's also the main ingredient in human nails, hair, and skin.

Why are feathers so light?

Feathers contain 80 to 90% keratin, so they're lightweight, enabling the bird to lift them easily.

Do birds clean their feathers?

Preening is the method birds use to clean their feathers. If you have a birdbath, you probably wonder if birds come to wash. Actually, they don't need water to clean their feathers.