Playing With a Feather

Warner Road, London, SE5

When was the last time you played with a feather?

I found this one sticking out of a patch of grass; I think it once belonged to a pigeon. So I picked it up and have been playing with it.

Close-up, the structure is beautiful – delicate and perfectly stripy. I really wanted to hear the noise it makes when two stripes are pulled apart. It’s a sound I remember from childhood. It’s rather gentle, yet distinctive, very quiet and very lovely.

Each stripe is actually a very thin hair-like structure which is joined to its neighbouring stripes by incredibly tiny hooks. It works a bit like velcro.

And today, through my physical examination of this feather I discovered something new!

I had always thought that once the stripes were pulled apart it was impossible to put them back together, meaning that the feather was irreparably damaged and fairly useless for flying – a terrible state of affairs if it’s still being used by a bird.

But this is not the case at all. They stick right back together again, they just need to be brought together at the right angle.

I feel very relieved to have discovered this, and have been happily pulling the stripes apart and sticking them back together ever since!


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One Comment

  1. Tim Jones says:

    Kudos on your “thought that once the stripes were pulled apart it was impossible to put them back together” confession; likewise, I was in my 40s before I realised that the hit beat combo from Liverpool were the BEATles, having always thought of the Fab Four as the BEETles.

    A good deal of avian preening is dedicated to zipping back together those feathery barbules that have become separated by the vortices that flight creates as a byproduct.

    To see video microscopy recordings the barbules, barbs, and hooks of a gull feather in extreme close-up detail, plus a whole bunch of amazing organic minuteness from around the British Isles, check out:
    • ‘Miniature Britain’
    — Presenter: George McGavin
    — Available until: 8:59PM Wed, 19 Dec 2012
    — Duration: 60 minutes
    » iPlayer –

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