How Do Feathers Protect a Bird in Winter?


How about those Ducks in cold water, winter ice and snow? My last post mentioned what ducks face in our region. The ice and cold makes many hardships for them, but generally not one of keeping warm. It’s all in the feathers! See why…

Feathers help the ducks stay afloat while swimming and the air trapped in feathers keep them warm too. And those diving ducks? The feathers make them fast in diving somewhat like the aerodynamic attributes in flying.


The birds adjust feather position from stimulation of the nerves where the feather meets the body. This helps them glide through the water. It also lets them puff out the feather, trapping air to keep them warm.


The strong contour feathers protect birds from wind. They are made from beta-keratin which is water resistant. Strong, it helps keep feathers from wearing. Feathers work to keep water out keeping the duck dry. Features have interlocking barbs with a coating that is either waxy or oily, shedding water like the phrase “water off a duck’s back”.

White birds in winter are better camouflaged against predators, so feather color has protective qualities. Also, some ducks may be lightly colored on their stomachs to camouflage them from predators while swimming or flying. Feathers are and an amazing body part. Another thing feathers do, they can be used as a visual signal to communicate with each other. Feathers did not likely appear first on birds though, the dinosaurs had them first! I wonder if feathers helped in the Ice Age?

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11 Responses to How Do Feathers Protect a Bird in Winter?

  1. Bernice says:

    Great pictures and interesting facts about birds.

  2. Great photography. You can feel the cold. Spring will be here soon.

  3. aussiebirder says:

    Great pics Donna and interesting post, thanks.

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Wonderfully informative, Donna, and the photos are fantastic. 🙂

  5. Nick Hunter says:

    Good piece of ornithology. I’ll weigh in with mention of the preening oil gland on the lower back. Also of note, the soft, downy feathers surrounding the oil gland are highly sought after as feathers for fly tying/fishing — they’re oily and they float well!

  6. alesiablogs says:

    I know this sounds crazy but because I am pretty new to taking photos, I never paid much attention but since photographing Ducks a lot lately – the feathers have mesmerized me. I love looking at the patterns.

  7. Good topic…my resident bluebirds and others puffed up like cotton balls last month. So glad that’s over! Now the birds concentrate on LOVE and chasing off contenders…Happy Spring! Thanks for all the great winter posts, Donna. 😉

  8. I love learning from your posts Donna

  9. Always wondered about this. Thanks for the great article complete with your fab pix.
    Can I ask a related question? Have you ever seen ducks in a partially melted pond/lake with their feet frozen to the ice? I’ve seen it too many times and always wondered if that situation is ‘normal’. Also, if it’s as life-threatening as it seems to be to me!

  10. Phil Lanoue says:

    We were thinking about this recently watching some of the bald eagle live cams when their nest got covered over and filled with snow. But the feathers do provide considerable protection.

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