F is for feath­ers

An eclec­tic al­pha­bet of chicken facts with a dif­fer­ence Com­piler: Andy Cawthray

Your Chickens - - Info | Glossary -

FILOPLUMES – These usu­ally be­come ev­i­dent when a chicken is plucked, as they are the thin hair-like feath­ers left be­hind when the main feath­er­ing is re­moved. These feath­ers are con­nected to nerve end­ings within the chicken and are used to mon­i­tor the po­si­tion of the main body plumage, e.g. when they are flat against the body or puffed out when keep­ing warm.

PLUMULES – These feath­ers are prob­a­bly more fa­mil­iarly known as ‘down’. These are the soft fluffy feath­ers on the chicken. They lack the barbs that would hold the shape like the feath­ers that cover the out­er­most pro­file of a chicken, but, as such, they are very good at trap­ping air and help­ing with the chicken’s tem­per­a­ture reg­u­la­tion.

WEBBED FEATH­ERS – These are the larger out­er­most feath­ers of the chicken and the ones that dic­tate the look of the breed and its plumage. They con­sist of a hol­low quill which is near­est the chicken’s body. A cen­tral shaft car­ries barbs, which in turn have bar­bules and bar­bi­cels, which act to lock to­gether the barbs into a web or vane. These types of feather make up most of the ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance of the chicken, in­clud­ing body, wings and tail. A ge­netic mu­ta­tion of this feather oc­curs in friz­zled and silkied breed types.

DUST BATHING

Un­like a num­ber of avian species, chick­ens do not bathe in wa­ter and in­stead make use solely of dust baths. Given any op­por­tu­nity they will cre­ate a shal­low bowl in any soft dry soil, sand, or deep floor lit­ter and then be­gin to shuf­fle and thrash about. The ob­jec­tive

is to cover them­selves in dust and to work it into their feath­ers. It con­sti­tutes a part of the feather care and par­a­site con­trol regime built into their nat­u­ral be­hav­iour. It is also a so­cial­iz­ing be­hav­iour, and of­ten a num­ber of hens will share the same bath si­mul­ta­ne­ously, oc­ca­sion­ally groom­ing each other.

PREENING

With chick­ens, like many birds, preening is an es­sen­tial part of hy­giene, and is of­ten per­formed so­cially and in­vari­ably fol­low­ing a dust bath or when they have been caught out in the rain. The pur­pose of preening is to en­sure proper feather struc­ture is main­tained by straight­en­ing the feath­ers (us­ing the beak) and then oil­ing the feath­ers (us­ing the head, first rubbed against the preen gland at the base of the tail and then rubbed over the feath­ers be­ing preened). It is also an ad­di­tional way of re­mov­ing par­a­sites, dead skin and other feather dan­der.

THE FIRST FEATH­ERS

Gen­er­ally feath­ers will de­velop in the more or less the same or­der. Wing feath­ers de­velop first dur­ing week one, as these will help with mo­bil­ity. Tail (and shoul­der) feath­ers ap­pear next as these help with bal­ance. Next comes the back and breast, usu­ally around week three, then the rest of the body and fi­nally the head in week five.

MOULT­ING

Late sum­mer, early au­tumn sees the on­set of the an­nual moult for chick­ens. If you are a first time keeper this can ap­pear rather alarm­ing when first en­coun­tered, es­pe­cially when some breeds seem to lit­er­ally drop all their feath­ers overnight. This dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion into an oven-ready bird can send the unini­ti­ated keeper into a panic, but worry not, it’s a per­fectly nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence in poul­try over one year old.

Hens hatched dur­ing the spring of that year will not usu­ally moult un­til the fol­low­ing au­tumn but for those in their sec­ond year or be­yond there is the need to re­place their weather worn feath­ers be­fore the win­ter.

WING CLIP­PING

It’s not a re­quire­ment to clip the wing feath­ers of chick­ens, and it should only be done if there are birds that persistently clear bound­ary fenc­ing. Some breeds of chicken are rea­son­able fly­ers over a short dis­tance while oth­ers are very good jumpers, and in both cases the clip­ping of wings can help re­duce the amount of lift they get from fran­ti­cally flap­ping.

FRIZ­ZLE & SILKIE

The Friz­zle & Silkies are breeds of chicken. By care­ful (and in some in­stances by ac­ci­den­tal) breed­ing it has been pos­si­ble to trans­fer the ge­netic traits for their plumage into other breeds.

‘Friz­zle feath­er­ing’ is a ge­netic trait caus­ing feath­ers to curl out­wards and away from the body, giv­ing the bird a fluffy look. Friz­zle-feath­ered birds are flight­less due to ir­reg­u­lar feather struc­ture, and can be a lit­tle more sus­cep­ti­ble to the weather as they carry less pro­tec­tion then their flat feath­ered coun­ter­parts.

‘Silked feather’ means the chicken is cov­ered in what ap­pears to be fur. These are feath­ers that are struc­turally sim­i­lar to the fluff found at the base of most feath­ers. The shaft of the feather is very thin, and the barbs ex­ces­sively long and soft. The re­sult is they are un­able to lock to­gether and form the web of a nor­mal feather, giv­ing the bird a very fluffy look. Like the friz­zle-feath­ered chicken they are also flight­less, and a lit­tle more sus­cep­ti­ble to poor weather con­di­tions.

ECLIPSE PLUMAGE

In wild forms of the chicken, such as the Red Jun­gle Fowl, a moult can oc­cur in two stages, ef­fec­tively giv­ing the im­pres­sion of two moults. It is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the males. Firstly, they will moult their brightly coloured body and head feath­ers, re­plac­ing them with more subdued tones more akin to the fe­males’ colour­ing. This af­fords them a level of dis­cre­tion and camouflage whilst they go through the vul­ner­a­ble stage of moult­ing their wing feath­ers and pri­mary flight feath­ers. When these have moulted, and not yet fully grown, the birds’ abil­ity to evade pre­da­tion by short flight is com­pro­mised, hence the ‘eclipse’ of their coloured plumage. Once the wing feath­ers have re-grown the sec­ond stage of the moult oc­curs, where the tem­po­rary, dull-coloured feath­ers are re­placed by the bright breed­ing plumage. Moult­ing in this man­ner is more fre­quently seen in ducks, where the drakes on a lake seem to dis­ap­pear. They are, in fact, still present but hid­ing in more subdued fe­male look­ing feath­er­ing.

HENNY FEATH­ERED

On oc­ca­sion, and more of­ten in some breeds such as Se­brights, males will de­velop feath­er­ing that not only matches the plumage colour mark­ings of the fe­male but also the fe­male struc­ture. This will mean the cock­erel re­sem­bles, to all in­tents and pur­poses, a pul­let.

Webbed feath­ers

A Silkie

A Friz­zle Pekin

First feath­ers Dust­bathing Plumage

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