As winter approaches, the days get shorter and temperatures drop. Whether it's pulling on a down-filled coat or snuggling under a down comforter, we often have feathers to thank for the warmth we feel. Have you thanked a bird lately?
That's right! We have birds to thank for that stuff we call “down" that is packed inside coats, sleeping bags, comforters and pillows. Down is the name of the fine feathers that many birds have under their outer feathers.
It seems odd, though, doesn't it? If bird feathers are so warm, why do so many of them head south for the winter? As it turns out, most birds migrate to find food, not because they're cold.
As a result, energy cannot be transmitted easily through down feathers. This means birds are insulated from cold air outside, plus their body heat doesn't escape easily either.
Today, down is used in all sorts of products, including coats, bedding and sleeping bags, to help better insulate the user from cold weather. Down can be collected from many different types of birds, but most of today's supply comes from domestic geese.
In the United States and Europe, it's illegal to pluck down from a live bird. However, live-plucking is known to occur in Poland, Hungary and China. Animal welfare groups still fight to stop the practice of live-plucking wherever it is discovered.
In addition to being warm, down is also lightweight and durable. If cared for properly, down lasts longer than most synthetic fibers. When it comes to down, though, it does have one downfall (pun totally intended).