Why Do Birds Need Feathers to Fly?

From Issue: Discovery 2/1/2018

Dear Davy,

Excellent question! Actually, feathers are not necessary for flight. Many creatures can fly without them, like bats, flying insects, and the extinct flying reptiles called pterosaurs. Only birds, however, have feathers.

Each feather is designed to be strong but light weight and flexible so that the bird is not too heavy while flying but can still move through the air rapidly without its wings breaking. Each feather is made of a tough substance called keratin—the stuff your fingernails and hair are made of. If you study a feather, you will see a hollow spine down the middle and vanes on each side of the spine which have thousands of branches called “barbs” that form a net pattern. With a magnifying class, you will notice that there is so much space between each barb that when you add it all up, there is just as much air in a feather as there is the matter that makes up the feather. So when a bird’s wing is spread, it covers a lot of space, allowing it to push a lot of air to hold the bird up and push it forward, but at the same time, be light enough to not fall.

God asked Job, “Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south?” Job’s answer was surely, “No. Only You can design the bird to fly.” But in spite of how amazing birds are, Jesus said, “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). Thanks for the question!


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