From temperature regulation to flight, feathers on birds have a variety of functions. Read about chicken feathers from University of Illinois Extension. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/eggs/res12-feathers.html
Have you ever seen a chicken holding an umbrella? Neither have I! So how do they stay dry and warm? Chickens secrete an oil that they spread throughout their feathers through “preening.” This oil acts as a waterproof coat! Try this activity to see what materials you have at home that would make a good waterproof chicken coat. https://www.science-sparks.com/waterproofing/
Patterns, patterns, everywhere! Not the patterns on your shirt, but patterns in different objects that allow them to function correctly! Chick out this video on the structure of a feather:
Are there different patterns that make for better protection? First, draw a chicken. Next, find a ‘waterproof’ material at home and cut it into feather shapes. Then glue down your ‘feathers’ in a patterns that will not allow the water to get to the “skin” of your chicken drawing. Once your glue is dried, hold your sheet up, as if the chicken was standing, and spray some water on it. The drops should fall to the ground. After your ‘rain storm,’ pull up the feathers and see if the paper is wet. Did your pattern work?
What is feathers could be used to help clean up an oil spill. Here is an experiment using feathers from a down comforter or pillow, some water, olive oil and sea salt. Get permission before you tear up a pillow! What if we could use feathers to clean up oil spills in the ocean or lakes and rivers? What do you think of the hypothesis of the video?
Although chickens secrete and spread oil on their feathers for waterproofing purposes, too much oil can bog them down. Naturally, a chicken will take a dust bath!
Something for Everyone
Feather or not you know it, there was once a time where pens and pencils did not exist! *Gasp* So what was used to write important documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta? A quill pen of course!
Assessment and Extended Response
- How do chickens become waterproof? (They secrete an oil that gets spread over their feathers when they’re preening)
- Look back at the materials you used in your activity. What do we use them for? (answer will vary based on materials used)
*Can you think of other animals that are ‘waterproof’?
- What are the structures on a feather that make the feather look like one, solid material? (barbs that have barbules and hooks that hold if together)
- What kind of pattern do we see in the barbs? (interlocking)
*Why is the interlocking pattern of a feather important for chickens?
(Think of the layers of a roof, interlocking of bricks in walls, or scales on a lizard. The pattern of the barbules in feathers help with the waterproofing so that the water glides right off)