Taking Inventory: Feather

SQUAWK! No one in Minecraft would make the mistake of constructing their chicken coop (or sheep pen, or cow paddock) right outside their home more than once. The noise is, frankly, unbearable. At all hours of the day and night, you’ll endure endless squawks until it all becomes too much. So you grab your diamond sword and go on a rampage. When the dust settles, all the remains of your proud flock of chickens will be a stack or two of our item of the week – feathers.

Feathers were added during the 0.31 Indev phase of Minecraft’s development. They were originally dropped by every mob, and could only be used to make arrows. Shortly afterwards, they were patched to only drop from zombies, and then from chickens, but it was a while until zombies started dropping rotten flesh instead, and chickens became the only source of feathers.

Why did zombies ever drop feathers? Simply because the developers didn’t know what else they should drop! Perhaps someone tried to raise the dead at a pillow factory? I guess we’ll never know...

Today, there are four main places you can get feathers in Minecraft. The first is chickens, who’ll drop zero to two feathers on death. The second is parrots, who drop one to two on death. The third is chests – feathers appear in shipwreck chests. The fourth? It’ll be added in the upcoming Village and Pillage update, and we’re keeping it a secret – but let’s just say that you might want to keep a furry friend around the house...

As well as arrows, feathers can also be used to craft book and quills (with ink and a book), and firework stars (with gunpowder and dye). Adding a feather to a firework star will give it the burst explosion effect, which looks very pretty indeed.

But let’s back up a sec and consider for a moment how weird and amazing feathers really are. Have a look, next time you’re holding one in your hand. They’re made of keratin, which is the same stuff that hair, fingernails, animal claws and horns are made of, but they’re way more fluffy. They come in zillions of different shapes, sizes and colours. And they’re used for aerodynamics, for keeping birds warm, for keeping them dry, for camouflage, and for communication – all at the same time!

In fact, in evolutionary terms, feathers are one of the most complex things ever to have developed. It’s thought that they began as reptilian scales, which got longer and longer, then started developing fringed edges (which would have been effective for keeping the animal warm), but there’s not a lot of agreement among scientists about exactly how it happened. All we know for sure is that dinosaurs with protofeathers existed about 125 million years ago.

Wait, dinosaurs with feathers? Yep. Lots of dinosaur species – even ones that didn’t fly – had feathers, and for a long time too. In fact, modern birds evolved directly from early dinosaurs, and we’ve found feathers preserved in amber which prove it. You’ve got to admit, birds do look a bit like tiny dinosaurs.

So next time you’re chasing a chicken around in Minecraft, imagine it as a tiny dinosaur instead. It’ll make the experience less ridiculous and far more epic.

Written by
Duncan Geere
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