Introduction: Waterproof Bird Feathers

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Have you ever noticed a bird flying in the rain? How are they able to do this without getting soaked? Feathers are perfectly adapted to be watertight and airtight to help a bird fly. This activity will demonstrate how effectively bird feathers are waterproof.

Key Terms:

Preen- when a bird straightens and cleans its feathers with its break

Waterfowl- ducks, geese, or other large aquatic birds


  • Cup with water
  • Dropper
  • Bird feather **feathers used in this demonstration are from our own birds in Nature Works and were naturally molted

Step 1: Put the Empty Dropper in a Cup With Water. Squeeze the Dropper to Fill It Up

Step 2: Use the Dropper to Squeeze Several Drops of Water Onto the Bird Feather. What Happened to the Water?

Step 3: Try Dunking the Feather in the Cup of Water. Did Anything Different Happen?


Most birds have a special gland positioned near their tails, called the uropygial gland or preen gland. This gland produces oil, which birds rub over their feathers with their beaks to waterproof the feathers. Feathers are also barbed or hooked. These hooks ensure the branches of the feather stay together, similar to Velcro, and ensure a watertight surface. The structure of feathers are perfectly adapted to be waterproof and airtight to help a bird fly!

These waterproof feathers insulate birds from water and cold temperatures. This barrier of waterproof feathers is a very effective system, but it requires constant maintenance. If you take a moment to observe birds, especially waterfowl, you will notice they spend a lot of time preening themselves.

Step 4: ​Additional Questions

What do you wear when you go out in the rain?

Why do you think it is important to stay dry?

Why might waterfowl spend more time preening than other birds (i.e. songbirds, raptors etc.)?