The other use for feathers

A bird’s feathers play an important role in mating, flight and insulation, but new research suggests they also help protect its body.

After analysing the elastic properties of the contour feathers of the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), researchers from Cornell University, US, say the feathers act much like armour, shielding the body from solid objects such as tree branches – or water, in the case of extreme plunge divers like M. bassanus. 

“The presence of feathers on the gannet’s skin, particularly around the chest, is likely to have a significant effect on spreading the impact force of water over a much larger area on the skin and in turn minimise the pressure on the chest area, thereby, protecting integument,” they write in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Their model suggests the feathers reduce the pressure on the skin by as much as three times.

The researchers acknowledge that as bird-diving is highly dynamic, the forces a bird experiences in the wild could be different to those created in the study. However, they believe their model would still hold.

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