There have been debates upon debates about whether birds have hairs. Some said bats have hairs and they are birds. Others debunked it saying bats are mammals and not birds. After much research, we have come to the conclusion that birds have feathers.
Bird breeds like the kiwis have been discovered to have hairy feathers and in some birds, hair-like feathers are noticed around the base of the beak and nostrils called rictal bristles. Such hair-like feathers are also seen around the eyes of hornbills and ostriches called eye bristles. These bristles are not there because they chose to, they serve very important features.
The bristles around the beak close to the mouth help birds like the new world barbets and tyrant flycatchers have a wider gape when they want to take in/catch their prey. The bristles at the nostrils filter dust from the air birds breathe in while the eye bristles serve a protective function as the eyelashes.
The reason these bristles are termed hair-like is due to their lack of vanes found in feathers. That’s to say, all feathers have vanes, but these ones can’t possibly be feathers since they don’t have vanes. Scientists, however, traced bristles development to the development of feathers which settles the debates about the bristles and birds having hairs.
What makes feathers so essential and important for birds? Looking at the kind of animal birds are, without feathers they wouldn’t be able to perform various life functions. Especially for flight, though not all birds can fly. These non-flying birds still need feathers to keep warm and dry in cold climates.
Feathers just as hairs and fur on other animals help keep birds warm and dry. It also functions as an insulator against moisture since they are water-resistant. Feathers come in varieties: different sizes and colors but made up of the same protein material called keratin, the same material our hair and nails are made of.
But in birds, they have beta-keratin while alpha-keratin is found in humans and other mammals. They are arranged into a branching structure with sub-branches that interlocks with other sub-branches.
The feather has a central shaft called the calamus that extends into a part called the rachis where the barbs and barbules are attached. They are strongly knitted together that water molecules can’t gain access. There are many types of feathers found in birds, but these two: vane feathers and down feathers are the major types known. All birds fall into these categories.
Feathers Enable Birds To Do The Following;
Ability To Fly
Feathers birds the ability to fly. Keratin is a lightweight substance and it is what gives feather its lightweight since they are made of them. Though, if you weigh the whole feathers on the body of a bird you will find out it has more weight than the skeleton of the bird.
Birds like penguins are non-flying birds. Since they can’t fly, their feathers help them swim in the water. Their flat, stiff flippers make them one of the best swimmers among birds.
Floating On Water
Ducks, also non-flying birds use their feathers to float on water by trapping air inside their downy feathers. The feathers also protect them from the cold water.
Birds don’t fly always. Whenever they are not flying and on the ground or on trees, they use their feathered tail to support themselves.
Predator birds like the Owls have feathers arranged at an angle facing upward on both sides of their faces. These feathers help channel sounds into their ears. This makes them locate their prey easily, even in the dark. Owls also use their feathered wings to muffle the noise they make when going after prey.
The rictal bristles as said earlier found around the base of the beak close to the mouth function as a funnel in catching insects. The eye bristles the bird’s eyes when catching insects.
Fish-eating birds eat their feathers. In order to avoid eating fish bones, the feathers they eat will help straighten their digestive tract.
Some predator birds have feathers with colors looking like their surroundings. They make use of that and lie in wait for their prey knowing they can’t be seen. Birds that are prey use this to hide from predators too.
Birds don’t have hair. The nearest feature they have that can be likened to be hair is the rictal and eye bristles, but it isn’t hair. Aside from feathers, birds do have other covering on their body seen in their legs called scales. Scales are also made up of keratin and found only in the lower legs of birds (tarsi and toes).