Ok, so back to the topic of adaptations.  An adaptation is something about an organism that helps it survive.  Every living creature is adapted to live in its particular habitat, which is why polar bears don’t do well living at the equator and anacondas wouldn’t fare well in the Arctic.

Let’s start with birds since they have one special adaptation that no other animal has.  Feathers.  Feathers are one of the characteristics that make a bird a bird.

This is a flight feather from a magpie.

This is a flight feather from a magpie.


Let’s see what feathers do for a bird:

  • provide warmth
  • work in conjunction with wings to achieve flight
  • keep out rain (water proofing)

So feathers are an adaptation that allow birds to survive in the cold and rain as well as take to the sky.

We’ll be focusing on adaptations of different animals for awhile.  There’s a lot to talk about!

ACTIVITY:  Feather Observations

If you’ve never really looked at a feather, you’re going to be amazed!  There are several different types of feathers such as flight feathers and down feathers.  Try to do this activity with at least two different types of feathers.  A good place to find feathers is at a duck pond or ask someone who owns chickens.  You don’t have worry about bringing in nasty bugs to your home.  If you want, you can lightly spray the feather in lysol and let it air dry.

1. Record your observations in a notebook.  First, run the feather from the tip of the quill upwards through your fingers and describe how it feels.  Next, run your fingers in the opposite direction.  What happens?  Why?

2. Feathers are made of the quill (calamus), shaft (rachis) and barbs.  Draw your feather and identify the parts.

3. Pry apart the barbs (the part you actually think of as the feather).  Using a magnifying glass or microscope, take a very close look at an individual barb.  Each barb is made of barbules with hooks on the ends.  It is these hooks that keep the feather “sealed”, making it impervious to water and streamlining the bird’s shape.  When you run the feather vane through your fingers, its like zipping shut all those hooks.  Running your fingers down the vane unzips the hooks and the feather barbs come apart.  Make a drawing of the barbs, barbules and hooks if you can see them.

4. Give children a piece of velcro to examine.  Help them discover the barbules and hooks on a feather are just like the hooks and loops of velcro.

So when a bird “preens” itself, it takes its feathers in its beak and zips closed all the hooks.  It’s the same process as you brushing your hair.  Preening keeps the feathers in good condition and the bird healthier.

Not only are feathers and adaptation, but the feathers themselves have adaptations to make them more functional – barbs, barbules and hooks!

Here's a diagram of a feather for you to use.

Here’s a diagram of a feather for you to use.




2 thoughts on “Adaptations

  1. Ha!!! I always wondered about why a feather, as you put it, zipped back together!!! I can not wait to raid the chicken coop and show this to the kids!!! Yay! Thank you so much for this! I’m ridiculously excited about this! 🙂

    • It’s definitely a fun activity. I think feathers are so amazing with their colors and shapes. I like to wonder where in the world it might have traveled!

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