(noun) The main shaft of a bird’s feather that attaches to the skin. While for ornithologists the term quill only refers to the lower part of the stiff, hollow shaft of the feather, the part below additional branches, the term is also generally used to describe an entire larger feather, typically a flight feather from the wing or tail.
Quills are composed of keratin and are anchored to the bird’s skin. The lowest part of the quill, below the skin, includes blood vessels for nourishment and growth. The quill is attached to muscles that allow the bird to control the orientation of the feather for flight agility, fluffing to keep warm or showing off crests, plumes or other prominent feathers for courtship or aggression. Birds molt periodically, growing new quills as needed to replace feathers that have been damaged or worn. The exact timing, frequency and length of the molt cycle varies for each bird species.
Large bird quills were used historically as writing instruments before metal-nibbed pens, but are rarely used now because the abrasiveness of wood pulp paper wears down the tip of a feather too rapidly for practical use. When real quill pens were useful, the larger feathers of geese, swans, eagles, owls, hawks, turkeys and crows were preferred, depending on the available supply and the desired type of writing, with smaller feathers best for finer lines and details.
Photo – Quill © Ritesh Man Tamrakar
Calamus, Shaft, Quill Feather