How much do you know about eagles, peregrine falcons, and the birds of the Mississippi Flyway! Take our weekly quiz to find out!
March 8, 2023: What do you know about feathers?
Congratulations…you passed the quiz! Scroll through the results to see what you got right and what you missed!
Awww…better luck next time! Scroll through the results to see what you got right and what you missed!
#1. How many feather types do birds have?
Birds have six feather types:
- Flight feathers
- Contour feathers
- Down feathers
- Bristle feathers
#2. What can feathers tell you about a bird?
All of the above! Depending on the species, feathers can signal age (eagles, for example, go through five distinctive molts that correspond with their age), reproductive potential (healthy, vivid plumage signals a mate with good reproductive potential), and sex. Most raptors don’t have sexually dimorphic plumage, but many birds do.
#3. True or false: Feathers are part of the largest organ system in a bird’s body.
True! Feathers are part of a bird’s integument, the largest organ in its body. This tough protective layer also includes a bird’s scales, talon, beak, and the glands in its outer ear canal and at the base of its tail. A bird’s integument keeps its insides inside, protects it from pathogens, and allows it to exchange wastes, react to stimuli, and produce important organic compounds like uropygial (preen) oil.
#4. Flight feathers are found on a bird's wings and tail. What is their primary purpose?
All of the above! Flight feathers help create lift and thrust, which keeps birds in the air and moves them forward. They also reduce drag, which slows birds down and disrupts their flight. Some species can use their flight feathers to perform additional tasks, including territorial displays and courtship rituals, but flight is the primary purpose of flight feathers.
#5. True or False: A bird begins growing feathers in the egg.
True! Feather development begins in the egg. Feather buds begin to form about halfway through embryonic development.
#6. Stiff contour feathers form the outside of a bird's plumage. What is their primary purpose?
A bird’s stiff exterior contour feathers zip together over its fluffy down feathers to shed precipitation and protect it from wind and sunlight.
#7. What are feathers made of?
Feathers are made of a strong, lightweight protein called beta-keratin. We use keratin, a related protein, to form skin, hair, and fingernails, but beta-keratin is only found in birds and reptiles.
Feathers are part of the largest organ in a bird’s body. They need to be light, so birds can fly; durable, so they don’t break in flight; and easily replaceable if they break or degrade. Beta-keratin is more durable than keratin and produces a feather that is light but won’t easily break under the aerodynamic pressures of flight.
#8. Filoplume feathers are found on a bird's wings and underside. What is their primary purpose?
Filoplume feathers provide sensory feedback about temperature and wind speed so birds can quickly respond to flight conditions. They may also help birds sense damaged or lost feathers so they can quickly molt replacements.
#9. True or false: The cumulative weight of a bird's feathers is often 2 to 3 times heavier than its skeleton.
True! Individual feathers are light but cumulatively, a bird’s feathers are much heavier than its skeleton. Most birds have honeycombed or hollow bones, which makes their skeletons much lighter than they would be otherwise: another adaptation that makes it possible to fly.
#10. Fluffy down feathers nestle beneath a bird's exterior contour feathers. What is their primary purpose?
Down feathers trap air next to a bird’s skin, where it warms quickly.
#11. Short, stiff bristle feathers cluster around a bird's eyes, nostrils, and beak. What is their primary purpose?
Short, stiff bristle feathers sense threats and help keep dust, grass, insect legs, and other debris from damaging the delicate tissues of a bird’s eyes, nostrils, and mouth.