How Does this Feather Hold Together? / by Chris Maynard

 African grey parrot

African grey parrot

First, a little background: Each feather is made of a shaft and a bunch of barbs that come off the shaft. Like tree branches. Each branch, or barb has more branches coming off of it. On a feather these smaller branches are called barbules. Each barbule has a grabby claw hook which grasps others. That’s what keeps a feather together and flat. Without them, birds couldn't fly. It’s like Velcro. And they can come apart and zip back together again. So that’s how I cut this African Grey Parrot tail feather without it falling apart: by relying on the barbules to hold the barbs together. This cut shape isn't very strong though. That’s because the connection of some of the barbs to the shaft were severed.  So if the Velcro-like barbule claws come apart, the shape just falls apart. On my shadowbox work, I spend a long time on each feather placing backing material in certain places to make them sturdy. This feather is not backed.