Because feathers do so many jobs there needs to be more than one type of feather. Some of them are long and strong for flying and steering. Others are soft and fuzzy. These feathers are very good for keeping the bird warm. In fact, we have learned to use these soft feathers in our clothing and bedding to help keep us warm. You might have had a down comforter on your bed or wear a down jacket when it is cold outside. These are things that are filled with soft downy feathers.
If you look at the different feather types above, you will see that they come in many shapes and sizes. The types we see the most often are tail and flight feathers (also called vaned or contour feathers). At first look they may seem the same, but actually are different. Tail feathers are balanced left and right of the center. Flight feathers have a wider and narrower side. This makes them better for flying because they can cut through the air with very little resistance (also called drag).
Other types of feathers are made for use on the body of the bird. The downy feathers that are good for warmth are shown on the far right. Semiplume feathers also help to keep birds warm and for water birds help them float. The bristle feathers are found around eyes, nostrils, and for some birds that like to catch flying insects they can be seen around their mouths. Filoplume (file-o-ploom) feathers are can be found around the tail and flight feathers. They are thought to be used to sense when the flight feathers need to be maintained.
No matter what type of feather, they all have similar parts. Below is a drawing of a feather showing all the parts that you might find on a feather. Not all feathers have all the parts. For example downy feathers are missing the stiff barbs and vane. You will also see that flight feathers have very little or no downy barbs.
We learned about different feather types in my Ornithology class last year. It was really interesting. Especially the part about the flight feathers. I had to take a good look at Sammy’s wings to see the venation. :3