Because a bird can eliminate heavy metals in its feathers and because feathers can be collected non invasively and stored indefinitely, down feathers can be used to check for evidence of metal contamination in the bird’s environment. Studies have shown a high level of correlation between the level of metal contamination in a bird’s diet and the level found in its feathers, with the proportion of the chemicals found in its feathers remaining relatively constant (and relatively high for some metals).Mutations in the genes that control the formation of down feathers have been recorded in a German White Leghorn flock. Although the elements of a normal down feather are present, a hyperkeratosis of the feather’s horny sheath after 16 17 of incubation results in the sheath not splitting as it should during the final stages of the feather’s growth.
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