Functions of Feathers

Part of the Dinosaurs: Activities and Lesson Plans Curriculum Collection.


Through research, students will learn about the different types of feathers and their functions. The information they gather will help support the idea that feathers evolved before birds and serve functions other than flight.


Students will:

  • research and report on the functions of feathers in a particular bird.
  • present their findings in a report to the class.

Time Frame

Approximately two periods (40 minutes each) in addition to outside research


  • Library materials and computers for Internet research
  • Several different types of feathers (optional)
  • Functions of Feathers reproducible, duplicated for each student


Prior Knowledge

1. Call on volunteers to name the body coverings of different animals and to describe the function of those body coverings (i.e. fur, scales, skin). Discuss with students the functions of feathers. Use the following questions to guide the discussion and write students’ responses on the board:

  • Which animals have feathers?
  • What are the functions of feathers? (Answers: flight, insulation, defense, display, camouflage, waterproofing)
  • Are all feathers used for flight? Are there birds with feathers that cannot fly? How do their feathers function?


2. Tell students they are going to do research to learn more about the functions of feathers. Distribute the Functions of Feathers handout and read through it with students. If available, distribute feathers for students to examine.

3. Tell students they will work in small groups to research the functions of feathers in the particular bird they are assigned. Their research will include:

  • a detailed look at the bird’s different feathers and how they function.
  • an examination of the bird’s habitat and the role feathers play as an adaptation to that habitat. Remind students that their groups will present reports to the class on their research and that they should be prepared to answer any questions their audience might have. Suggest groups use pictures and drawings to illustrate their reports.

4. Divide the class into groups and assign one of the following birds to each group: penguin, ostrich, peacock, duck, snowy owl, and robin. If possible, provide time for students to do computer and library research during class.


5. When groups have completed their research, have them make their presentations to the class. After the presentations, discuss with students what they have learned about feathers. Ask them to hypothesize what functions feathers may have served in the early feathered dinosaurs.