Feathers: Are down and powder down the same?

Down feathers are fine fluffy feathers. Baby birds are covered in down feathers. In adult birds the down feathers are found underneath the exterior (outer) feathers.

Down feathers are used as padding or insulators to trap heat and keep the bird warm. That’s why baby birds are covered in down feathers. Down feathers are used in pillows and sleeping bags.

Powder down is called or pulviplumes. Pulvi means dust and plumes means feathers – so pulviplume means feather dust.

Powder down feathers are very special feathers found near down feathers. They are difficult to see. Powder down feathers do not molt (drop out), but continue to grow.

Not all birds have power down feathers – pulviplumes. All parrots have pulviplumes. Herons and tinamous have pulviplumes.

heron

herons have pulviplumes

parrot

parrots have pulviplumes

The cells and tips of powder down feathers create ‘feather dust’ that looks like talcum powder. Because the pulviplumes are like dust, some humans are allergic to powder down.

Powder down feathers look like feather dust but it is not dus. It is fine, white, waxy powder made of keratin. It forms a waterproof barrier for the contour feathers (outer feathers) of parrots and herons. When herons clean themselves, they spread the wax onto other feathers. Herons have pulviplumes to absorb mud and to help them remove fish oil from their feathers.

eagle chick

an eagle chick has down feathers but no pulviplumes

Young Coot

a coot chick has down feathers but no pulviplumes

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

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