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Learn How Birds Waterproof Their Feathers

Birds have a special way of waterproofing their feathers. This fun activity will show you how it works.

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Participant Age: 7 to 12, 12 and up
Approximate Cost: Under $10
Duration: 1 to 60 minutes
Difficulty:
Physical Challenge:
  • Cooking oil
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Sponge or water dropper
Cut Out Feathers

Cut out two feather shapes from construction paper.


Rub Oil into One Feather

Rub a small amount of cooking oil onto one of the paper feathers and let it soak in. Don't put any oil on the other paper feather.

Add Water to Feathers
  • Use a dropper or sponge to squeeze a few drops of water onto the un-oiled paper feather. Tilt the feather a bit, and observe what happens.
  • Next, use the dropper or sponge to squeeze a few drops of water onto the oiled paper feather. Tilt it a bit, and observe what happens. 
Talk About What You Observed

Discuss the following questions:

  • What happens to the water on the un-oiled feather? (It soaks in.)
  • What happens to the water on the oiled feather? (It beads up and runs off. That's because the oil acts as a shield. It keeps the oil from soaking into the paper.)
  • How do real birds keep their feathers from getting wet, even when floating in water? (Birds have an oil gland at the base of their tail. They use their bill to spread the oil over their feathers. This makes the feathers waterproof in much the same way as the oil kept water from soaking into the paper feather.)

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