When you next come across a feather, hold it in your hand, blow on it and let it fall to the ground. Notice how light it is. The feather is unique to birds and is a miracle of efficient design. Take a moment to appreciate the mystery of this wonderful creation.
Many great writers in the past appreciated the quill, with the feather’s hollow shaft making the feather strong and light but also an ideal receptacle for ink. Hundreds of barbs like smaller feathers grow out from the central vane, forming a gentle sheet of material that allows the feather to float down easily on the air. The barbs are flanked by many thousands of smaller barbules, each with many hooks along their sides. Should the feather be damaged in flight, the bird simply needs to draw its beak over the ruffled area when preening and the barbs will ‘zip up’ and heal the delicate structure.
Feathers allow the bird to fly. They can also be waterproofed with oil from the preening bird’s glands. Feathers lacking the zipping structure become ‘down’ providing effective insulation beneath the outer feathers.
The creative evolution that created the feather is truly remarkable. No human technology could provide anything better. As we contemplate this wonderful natural phenomenon, we become mindful of the fact that we are immersed in mystery in the natural world. We are just one branch of the extraordinary emergence of life on the planet.