How often do we find a fallen feather on the ground and we take it for granted? We tend to forget the miracles that occur around us daily, flight being one such grand miracle of life, enabled by a little thing like this.
The birds we seldom notice, unless they muck up our freshly washed cars, are able to do something no human being has been able to do so far, without the aid of an engineered mechanism. They’re able to take flight, freely, and soar high above the ground, surveying all they can see, while humans are stuck on the ground.
These seemingly simple feathers are what make it happen (in part). Except they’re not so simple. When you look at them under a microscope, you begin to see all sorts of mechanisms that help interlock each fiber (or barbule) together. They’re rightly called some of “the most complex integumentary appendages found in vertebrates” (see this for more).
For quite a lot of our history, feathers were used as writing instruments, as stuffing for pillows and quilts, as decoration on clothing, in artwork and if legend is to be thought true, in the artificial wings constructed by Daedalus. So I think it befitting that we take a moment to admire the beautiful design of this instrument of flight.