Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?
Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.
Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.
by permission. 254 Club-winged Manakin. Illustration © 1998 by Kimberly Bostwick. Used by permission. 257 Manakin Feathers. Artist unknown, from Darwin 1871 (public domain). 268 Feather Lab Plume. Photo © 2010 by Thor Hanson. 273 Illustrated Guide to Feathers. Illustrations © 2010 by Nicholas Judson. Used by permission. Index Page locators in bold indicate figures Ader, Clément Adornment. See Decoration/adornment Ælian Aerodynamics complexity of living bird
than two years, the global feather market would utterly implode. Like Cinderella’s regalia at the stroke of midnight, Thornton’s hard-won Barbary Ostriches changed instantly from priceless to common, from invaluable commodities to a simple flock of birds. The collapse of the plume boom coincided with the outbreak of World War I and a fundamental shift in women’s fashion. Across Europe and America, the war effort brought more and more women into the workforce, and tastes shifted overnight to
use them to color our clothes. When Jodi Favazzo dyes a feather, she is stripping out the natural pigments and replacing them with those of her own choosing. The same thing goes on every day at hair salons around the world. Some pigments are easy for birds to manufacture right in the cells of their developing feathers, while others, particularly yellows and reds, must be acquired through their food. Flamingos, for example, remain pink only so long as their diet includes a healthy dose of algae
worries about water. When British naturalist Edmund Meade-Waldo first described sandgrouse breeding behavior in 1896, no one believed him. Found in arid regions from the Kalahari north to Spain and as far east as Mongolia, the various species of sandgrouse all nest on the ground, in simple scrapes or even in camel prints, often as far as thirty miles from the nearest water source. They eke out a living eating dry desert seeds and must drink regularly to survive, so adults fly round-trip to water
bacterial growth. It’s possible that parasites helped lead to the evolution of molting itself, as well as the development of feather colors, since dark, high-melanin feathers appear more resistant to damage. CHAPTER FIVE 86 This habit probably developed: Recent experiments confirm this theory. When presented with a range of predators, from ferrets to falcons to owls, captive Black-capped Chickadees made distinctly different alarm calls to reflect the size and potential threat of each