Feather Study: A Basic Guide to Avian Feathers (Art/Lit)

Looking for an art or writing tutorial? Or perhaps you have your own art or writing advice that you would like to share? If so, then this is the place.
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The Great Fox
The Great Fox
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Feather Study: A Basic Guide to Avian Feathers (Art/Lit)

Post by RabidFox »


This is a concise tutorial designed to teach about the physical structure, placement, and purpose of avian feathers. Since it is short, it doesn't go into much detail, but it should serve its purpose as a simple introductory guide. The information provided here could be used for numerous things, such as artwork, literature, etcetera.

A bird’s wing can be compared to the human arm, and bends much the same way. The phalanges and the carpometacarpus make up the manus, which mostly corresponds to the human hand. The primary feathers attach to the manus. The ulna corresponds to the human forearm, and the secondary feathers are attached to it.

A feather is devised of several parts. The central shaft, which is made up of the calamus and the rachis, is grooved on the underside of the cross section for better rigidity. Barbs stem off from the shaft and hook together by hooked barbules, creating a vane on both sides of the shaft. The hooks on the barbules are called barbicels.

The primary and secondary feathers are flight feathers. They are important for flying. Primary feathers are long, while secondary feathers are shorter. Depending on the species of the bird, there can be as little as three to as many as sixteen primary feathers. The typical number of primaries is ten. Secondary feathers are more various, and the number is dependent on body size. There can be as few as six secondaries or as many as forty.

Tail feathers also have an important role in flight, and are connected to the pygostyle (not shown), which is located at the base of the spine. They are used to alter direction and to slow down flight speed.

Contour feathers cover the body and the base of the flight and tail feathers. They provide insulation, streamlining, and waterproofing.

Down and semiplume are used for insulation and can be found beneath the contour feathers. They are fluffy feathers because they lack the interlocking system of barbules and barbicels.

Bristles are usually located near the mouth and eyes. They are long and stiff, with mostly bare shafts, and protect against particles entering places they aren’t supposed to.

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