Chicken Feathers Trivia Top Dozen Facts

Feathers are amazing. Here are some fun facts about feathers that make you life of your next party. Well, at least a party where everyone keeps chickens.

Feather Trivia:

  • Feathers are made of a fibrous protein called keratin. This is the same protein that is the key structural material in human skin.  
  • Feathers are 20 times stronger than wood.
  • Feathers evolved from scales. In fact, chickens have both scales which can be seen on their feet and feathers that cover their bodies.

  • Feathers are structured with barbules that are arranged side-by-side along the shaft of the feather. These barbules have tiny hooks that interconnect in a way that is similar to hook and loop fasteners.

  • Silkie feathers lack these barbs. As a result, they don't hook together the way other chicken feathers do. This gives Silkies their characteristic "fluffy" appearance. 

Silkie feathers lack barbs so they don't lock together like the feathers on other chickens. Photo by Benjamint444
  • There's an opening at the base of the feather that allows blood to flow into the shaft of the feather while it's growing. Once the feather is fully grown, the blood supply is sealed off and the feather becomes hollow. A mature feather is like human hair and nails in that it is made from dead cells.  That's why you can trim a chickens flight feathers without harming the bird.
  • Feathers perform many functions for chickens including: 
    • Insulation - to maintain body temperature and provide protection from sun and rain.
    • Communication - to provide information about age, sex and specie
    • Camouflage - to hide from predators
    • Flight - smaller breeds such as bantams can fly as high as 25 feet to get to high roosting areas. Larger breeds have more limited range.
  • Chickens molt in order to replace feathers that have become worn out, damaged or lost.
Pancake during a molt. Note the blood feathers clearly visible on her neck.
  • Feather color is the result of both pigments in the feather and the structure of the feather which acts to scatter light in the same way a prism scatters light to produce colored light.
  • Chickens have five different types of feathers including contour feathers that cover their bodies, down feathers that provide insulation and retrices that make up a chicken's tail feathers.
  • People have long used chicken feathers to make useful items like bedding (down pillows) but current uses include more novel applications such as diapers, paper, and even biofuel!
These flower pots made by Eastern Bioplastics are made from.... yup, chicken feathers.
  • The practice of "tar and feathering" dates back to medieval times but was practiced by American Colonists to protest British taxation prior to the revolution.  The tar used in this process is made from pine tar that has a much lower melting point than the tar most modern Americans are familiar with. The feathers used were most likely chicken feathers.

Boston patriots tarring and feathering British Customs Officer John Malcolm, 1774


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