Why do birds have tail streamers? (& what are they)

Why do birds have tail streamers? (& what are they)

Many birds have tail streamers which are elongated narrow tips of tail feathers. But what are tail streamers for? And what exactly are they? 

That’s what we’re going to find out in this article.

What Are Tail Streamers?

Tail streamers are distinctive, slender extensions of the tail feathers. Visually, these streamers are characterised by their noticeably longer length compared to the rest of the tail feathers, often tapering to a fine, narrow point. They vary in colour and pattern, depending on the species, but are generally prominent and easily distinguishable.

Located at the rear of the bird, these streamers extend from the central tail feathers. In some species, they are almost as long as the bird’s body, creating an elegant and striking silhouette.

The length and shape of these streamers are not just for show; they play a crucial role in the bird’s life. 

Tail Streamers

Why Do Certain Birds Have Tail Streamers?

From an aerodynamic point of view, a bird’s tail hinders the bird’s ability to gain lift and maintain efficient flight. Considering that a bird’s survival is dependent on its ability to fly efficiently an elongated tail streamer might seem like a design fault. 

Attracting A Mate

But in many species of bird, these elongated feathers are not just there for show. They’re there to attract a female mate for the purposes of breeding. 

It appears that the females of the species are attracted to males with these showy tail feathers as they see them as a sign of their genetic strength and fitness.

The fact that the male bird is able to fly so gracefully and execute such tight turns even with such awkward tail feathers shows the female that her potential mate is not only physically fit and able, but is also able to overcome many of life’s problems.

Aid To Flight

Certain species, like swallows for example, have long tails that include outer feathers that form streamers. These streamers serve a specific purpose in flight. When a swallow spreads and lowers its tail during flight, the outer tail feathers automatically tilt downward. 

This unique feature helps delay the separation of airflow over the tail, allowing the bird to generate higher aerodynamic lift before reaching the point where flight becomes unstable.

So to put it plainly, the long tail streamers make it easier for the bird to twist and turn in the air when chasing insects on the wing.

Other Examples Of Birds With Long Tail Streamers

Apart from swallows, there are a number of other birds that have this same feature including;

  • Swallow-Tailed Kites
  • Barn Swallows
  • Forked-Tailed Flycatchers
  • Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers
  • Streamer-Tailed Tyrants

All of whom use their elongated tail streamers to execute sharp twists and turns in the air in pursuit of their fast moving insect prey.

SEE ALSO: What is a Malar stripe?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are tail streamers?

Tail streamers on birds are the elongated narrow tips of the tail feathers. This feature is only found on a few species of bird including swallows, swallow-tailed kites and forked-tailed flycatchers.

What is the purpose of tail feathers?

Tail feathers are important for manoeuvrability during flight. There have also been studies that show bird’s tail feathers are used in courtship displays as well as in warning signals to others when perceived danger is present.

Do birds need their tail feathers to fly?

Birds do need their tail feathers to fly because even though it’s the wings that enable lift, the tail acts like the rudder on a ship. Controlling the direction the bird flies in.