Feathers are enchanting. A central spine, attached to which are fine hair-like structures. Some feathers are stiff and strong like a proud royal.

Others are delicate with cotton-like fuzz that makes you cautious when you handle it. Feathers are ancient, with conclusive proof that dinosaurs had them too. Yes, that old. Every bird is marked distinctively by its feathers. The eagle's feathers in shades of beautiful brown are different from the flamingo's pink. The peacock outdoes everyone else's feather in the complexity of design department.

A central shaft or rachis has barbs, which further have barbules, not unlike a tree trunk that branches into primary and secondary branches. Soft down feathers at the bottom of the shaft are called downy barbs. Feathers are used by birds for a multitude of reasons. Many use it for flying, but they help protect birds from cold weather, rain and heat. They help line the nest for eggs. They help camouflage them from predators too. Some feathers, I suspect are simply for the bird to show off. The Toucan or the Mandarin Duck with their beautiful plumage are great examples.

Image from the book Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

There are different types of feathers. There are flight feathers that are found on the wing and tail of birds. There are contour feathers which give the bird shape. Soft feathers that look like powderpuff are known as down feathers. The feathers that are a bit like down feathers and a bit like contour feathers and are called semiplume feathers. Feathers that are found around the eye and mouth of birds, not unlike the bristles of a toothbrush are called bristle feathers.


Birds with their beautiful feathers make this world a lot more colourful and beautiful. In her book Feathers: Not Just For Flying, Melissa Stewart explores this very idea. The watercolour Illustrations by Sarah. S. Brannen are detailed and informative, not to forget gorgeous. The book takes us through sixteen birds and the different ways in which feathers are used by birds, besides flying. The book's scrapbook feel adds to its charm.

In the video below the author tells us how she got started on writing this book. She also explains how she used 'similies' (similies are a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind; The curry was as hot as a volcano).

The next time you see a feather, take it, observe it, preserve it. Feathers represent functional design  of the highest order, where form and function blend with perfection.