Chicken feathers have a number of different functions. There are different types of feathers on different parts of the body. Feathers cover almost the whole body.
Some breeds are described as being hard-feathered. Others are soft-feathered.
Functions of chicken feathers
The main function is to protect the bird from the cold, rain and heat. Feathers also protect the skin.
They are also important in attracting a mate, particularly those of the cock.
In some breeds the hen feathers help with camouflage while she is sitting on a nest of eggs.
Keepers of chickens also observe the feathers to gauge the health of the birds. If the feathers are not clean and well-groomed the smallholder needs to check the chicken more closely. Bare patches of skin might indicate external parasites. A bare neck on a hen might show that she is being over-mated.
Pulling out of feathers is a symptom of a number of different problems, such as overcrowding, bullying or being too hot.
Names of different chicken feathers
Feathers on the head
On the head, most chickens have ear tufts, which are feathers projecting from the ear. A few breeds have feathers below the beak, called beards. Bearded breeds also have muffs, which are feathers projecting below and around the eyes. Crested birds have feathers growing upwards from the head. The rest of the head is covered in short, smooth feathers.
Feathers on the neck
The hackles are the row of feathers around the neck of the fowl. They differ between cock and hen. On the cock they are long and pointed. Often they are iridescent, which means they change colour in different angles of light. They might be a different colour from the feathers on the rest of the body. The hackles on the hen are rounded and dull.
Underside of the chicken
The feathers on the belly are short and soft, often fluffy.
We call the feathers on the back below the hackles saddle feathers. Those on cocks are long and pointed.
Short feathers called tail coverts cover the base of the main tail feathers in cocks, and most of the tail in hens. Long straight feathers form the tail. The sickles are the two longest curved feathers of the tail of the rooster. The lesser sickles are the long curved feathers of the tail, below the sickles, also on the rooster.
There are a number of types of feathers on the wing. The coverts are closest to the body and the scapulars are the short feathers on the upper side of the wing. The secondaries form the middle section. The primaries are the longest and largest feathers on the end. There is also the wing bar.
In most breeds there are soft feathers on the the thighs and the rest of the leg and foot are bare. In a few breeds however there are feathers all the way down to the toes.
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