Thursday, September 13, 2012

Four Amazing Features of Feathers

Male Indian Peafowl (Courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Field biologist Thor Hanson recently published a book on the nature and functions of bird feathers and their amazing structures. The four functions feathers perform and their complex structure are marvels of ingenuity that defy the most advanced human technologies, to such a degree that they clearly indicate a master designer.

The four primary functions identified by Thor Hanson are:
1-Insulation, protecting the fragile bodies of birds
2-Water proofing for birds that swim
3-Aerodynamic features to enable a smooth, energy conserving flight
4-Ornamental colors, for attracting mates (mostly males attracting females).

Feathers are made of fibrous proteins called keratin. As they start to grow they are connected to blood vessels over the skin of baby chicks for transporting nutrition and aiding growth. Once mature, they are disconnected from the blood source. The insulating properties of feathers are legendary. No wonder the warmest blankets are stuffed with feathers! When Hansen carefully plucked the feathers of a tiny, dead wren, he counted as many as 1500 feathers covering the body!

The waterproofing feature of a water-adapted bird, such as a duck, is just as marvelous. The water repellent function of these feathers is not only based on their oily-ness but is also a result of a unique structure. Even after washing the feather with a mild acid solution, it still retains its waterproof qualities.  As for the aerodynamic features of these feathers, it has been shown that each individual feather has the shape of an airfoil, the very engineering design that enables airplanes to fly! In fact, the wings of eagles have such an amazing aerodynamic design that the bird easily flies, even in turbulent weather.  Airplane pilots avoid such weather, but the eagle uses it to soar! The incredible variety of colors adorning a bird is itself a miracle to behold. The ultimate example of extravagance in color and beauty is the peacock.

Such a common thing as a feather declares the artistry and engineering genius of the Creator God. No wonder scripture uses the metaphor of feathers to express some of God’s most intimate care and protection of His children. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Psalm 91:4

Thor Hanson's book, Feathers: the Evolution of a Natural Miracle, can be found on Amazon. 

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