Dear Karthikeya,

Bird feathers are interesting. There are so many types, shapes, and colors. My friend Daniela Monk is a Washington State University professor who studies avian ecology, or the study of birds.

She told me about why the birds we know today have feathers and how they got them. Researchers believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs a very long time ago.

“One lineage of dinosaurs gave rise to birds,” Monk said.

Researchers around the world are finding dinosaur fossils that contain feathers. A fossil is the remains of a very old animal or plant that is preserved in a rock. From these fossils they are learning that some dinosaurs used to have feathers, but for other reasons than flying.

Monk said that early feathers likely provided those dinosaurs with insulation and enabled them to stay warm at night, just like in mammals where fur likely was selected for to keep them warm. Some of these feathered dinosaurs were small and needed to protect themselves from other animals that would harm them.

One possibility is that early feathers may have provided them with the ability of escaping. At first, these dinosaurs likely couldn’t fly very well and may have flapped their wings to better run up tree trunks or to glide from place to place.

Over a long period of time, some feathered dinosaurs became accomplished flyers. They became lightweight and airborne, like the birds we know of now.

Monk said that feathers even in dinosaurs may have had a function in addition to flight. They may have been used for communication. Birds have so many different colors and patterns of feathers, some are for protection while others are for attracting mates.

Male birds are typically very colorful while females are tan and brown so they can blend into their habitat and stay safe. Have you seen a peacock? Male peacocks have very colorful feathers, while the females have brown feathers.

If you find birds fascinating like I do, then maybe you can become a bird watcher. It’s simple. All you need do is watch the birds that live around your house and write down what you see and observe. How many different birds can you spot in your neighborhood?

Bailey Campbell and Dr. Universe

Did you know not all birds fly? Penguins and Ostriches are flightless birds.


Bailey Campbell contributed this article. She is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.