Flight feathers are light weight engineering structures. They have a central shaft divided in two parts: the calamus and the rachis. The rachis is a thinly walled conical shell filled with foam, while the calamus is a hollow tube-like structure. Due to the fact that bending loads are produced during birds' flight, the resistance to bending of feathers has been reported in different studies. However, the analysis of bent feathers has shown that compression could induce failure by buckling. Here, we have studied the compression of feathers in order to assess the failure mechanisms involved. Axial compression tests were carried out on the rachis and the calamus of dove and pelican feathers. The failure mechanisms and folding structures that resulted from the compression tests were observed from images obtained by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The rachis and calamus fail due to structural instability. In the case of the calamus, this instability leads to a progressive folding process. In contrast, the rachis undergoes a typical Euler column-type buckling failure. The study of failed specimens showed that delamination buckling, cell collapse and cell densification are the primary failure mechanisms of the rachis structure. The role of the foam is also discussed with regard to the mechanical response of the samples and the energy dissipated during the compression tests. Critical stress values were calculated using delamination buckling models and were found to be in very good agreement with the experimental values measured. Failure analysis and mechanical testing have confirmed that flight feathers are complex thin walled structures with mechanical adaptations that allow them to fulfil their functions.

This article originally appeared in Materials Science and Engineering: C 78, 2017, Pages 923-931.