Birds With Hair Sticking Up On Their Heads: Crests, Tufts, And Plumes

If you’ve spotted a bird sporting a funky hairdo that looks like it stuck its feathered head in an electrical socket, you’ve seen a bird with specialized feathers sticking straight up from its crown. From the fan-shaped crest of a cockatoo to the rockstar mohawk on a hoopoe, these vertical feather formations have distinct functions.

Read on to learn all about the different types of head feathers, how they form, and why certain birds evolved these stylish thatches.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Many birds grow specialized feathers on their heads called crests, tufts, and plumes that stick straight up. These serve purposes like mate attraction, visual communication, camouflage, and heat dissipation.

Types of Head Feathers


Crests are a type of head feather that stick up on the top of a bird’s head. They are often brightly colored and can be quite large. Crests are found on a variety of bird species, including cockatoos, peacocks, and chickens.

These feathers can be raised or lowered by the bird, depending on its mood or level of excitement. The purpose of crests is still somewhat debated among scientists, but many believe they serve as a form of communication or display, signaling dominance or attracting mates.


Tufts, also known as ear tufts or “horns,” are another type of head feather that stick up from the sides of a bird’s head. These feathers are typically found on owls and some species of parrots. The tufts can be raised, lowered, or even fanned out by the bird, depending on its behavior or environmental conditions.

While the exact purpose of tufts is not fully understood, they are believed to play a role in camouflage, communication, or intimidation.


Plumes are long, decorative feathers that can be found on various parts of a bird’s body, including the head. These feathers are often vibrant in color and are used by birds for various purposes, such as courtship displays or territorial defense.

Some well-known examples of birds with head plumes include peacocks and herons. The plumes can be raised, lowered, or spread out by the bird to create an impressive visual display.

How Head Feathers Form and Grow

Head feathers play a crucial role in the unique appearance and behavior of many bird species. Crests, tufts, and plumes are some of the fascinating features that birds display on their heads. Understanding how these feathers form and grow can provide insights into the evolutionary significance and ecological functions of these elaborate structures.

Follicle Orientation

The formation of head feathers begins with the orientation of follicles, which are tiny pits in the bird’s skin from which feathers grow. The direction in which the follicles are angled determines the shape and position of the feathers.

For example, in birds with crests, the follicles are oriented vertically, causing the feathers to grow upwards and create an impressive crown-like crest on the bird’s head. On the other hand, birds with tufts have follicles angled diagonally, resulting in feathers that stick out horizontally or at an angle.

Melanin Concentration

The coloration of head feathers is influenced by the concentration of melanin pigment within the feathers. Melanin is responsible for producing colors ranging from black and brown to red and yellow. The varying levels of melanin concentration determine the intensity and pattern of color displayed in the feathers.

For example, birds with brightly colored crests often have high melanin concentrations, while those with paler tufts may have lower melanin levels. This diversity in melanin concentration contributes to the vibrant and striking appearance of head feathers.

Growth Cycles

Feather growth occurs in cycles, with each feather going through different stages of development. The growth cycle consists of three main phases: the growth phase, the resting phase, and the molting phase. During the growth phase, new feathers begin to form within the follicles and gradually emerge.

Once fully grown, the feathers enter the resting phase, where they remain for a period of time. Eventually, the feathers enter the molting phase, where old feathers are shed and replaced by new ones. This cyclic process ensures that birds maintain healthy and functional head feathers throughout their lives.

Understanding the intricate process of head feather formation and growth adds to our appreciation of the remarkable adaptations found in the avian world. It is through these unique features that birds are able to communicate, attract mates, and even intimidate rivals.

So, the next time you come across a bird with hair sticking up on its head, take a moment to marvel at the fascinating biology behind its crest, tuft, or plume.

Evolutionary Advantages of Upright Head Feathers

Birds with hair sticking up on their heads, such as crests, tufts, and plumes, have evolved these unique features for a variety of reasons. These upright head feathers provide several evolutionary advantages that help these birds thrive in their environments.

Visual Display for Mating

One of the primary reasons for birds to have upright head feathers is to attract a mate. These distinctive features serve as a visual display that signals their fitness and attractiveness to potential partners.

The elaborate crests of birds like the cockatoo or the peacock’s magnificent plumes are prime examples of how these feathers play a crucial role in courtship rituals. By displaying their splendid head feathers, birds can effectively communicate their genetic superiority and increase their chances of successfully finding a mate.

Signaling to Other Birds

Upright head feathers also serve as a form of communication between birds. They can convey various messages such as dominance, aggression, or submission to other individuals of the same species. For example, the raised crest of a bird like the great crested grebe can indicate territorial ownership and deter potential intruders.

In addition, some birds, like the crested tit, use their head feathers to communicate with their flock, coordinating movements and signaling the presence of food sources or potential threats.


While it may seem counterintuitive, upright head feathers can also provide a form of camouflage for birds. For species that inhabit dense vegetation or forests, these feathers can help them blend in with their surroundings and avoid detection by predators.

By mimicking the appearance of leaves, branches, or other elements of their environment, birds can increase their chances of survival and reduce the risk of predation.

Heat Dissipation

Another advantage of birds with upright head feathers is their ability to regulate body temperature. In certain species, these feathers can act as heat dissipators, helping to cool down the bird’s head by allowing air circulation.

This is particularly important in warm climates or during periods of intense physical activity when birds need to prevent overheating. By keeping their heads cool, these birds can maintain optimal physiological conditions and ensure their overall well-being.

Examples of Birds With Wild Head Feathers


Cockatoos are known for their distinct crests, which are feathers that stick up on their heads. These crests can be raised or lowered depending on the bird’s mood or level of excitement. Cockatoos use their crests as a form of communication, displaying them when they are feeling threatened or trying to attract a mate.

Some species of cockatoos, such as the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, have vibrant yellow crests that add to their striking appearance.

Birds of Paradise

The Birds of Paradise are famous for their elaborate plumes and tufts on their heads, which are used in courtship displays. These feathers come in a variety of colors and shapes, ranging from long, flowing plumes to short, curly tufts.

The males of the species use their head feathers to attract females during intricate mating rituals. The Greater Bird of Paradise, for example, has bright blue and yellow plumes that create a mesmerizing effect during their courtship dances.


Hoopoes are unique birds with distinctive crests on their heads. These crests can be raised and fanned out to create a crown-like appearance. The hoopoe’s crest is made up of a combination of feathers and specialized bristles.

It is believed that the hoopoe’s crest serves multiple purposes, including communication, territorial displays, and temperature regulation. The hoopoe’s crest is an iconic feature that sets it apart from other bird species.


While not as flamboyant as some other birds, woodpeckers also have head feathers that deserve mention. Woodpeckers have stiff, spiky feathers on their heads that help protect their skulls while they peck at trees.

These feathers act as a cushion, preventing injury from the repeated impact of their powerful beaks against wood. Additionally, these feathers provide insulation to keep the woodpeckers’ heads warm during colder seasons.

These are just a few examples of birds with wild head feathers. Each species has its own unique adaptations and purposes for these striking features. Observing these birds in their natural habitats can be a truly awe-inspiring experience!

Caring for Pet Birds With Head Feathers

Pet birds with head feathers, such as crests, tufts, and plumes, require special care to maintain their unique and beautiful appearance. Proper grooming, preventing damage, and providing enrichment are essential aspects of caring for these birds.


Grooming is an important part of caring for pet birds with head feathers. Regularly check their feathers for any signs of dirt, debris, or tangles. Use a soft brush or your fingers to gently untangle any knots. Be cautious and gentle, as these feathers are delicate and can easily break.

Regular baths or misting can also help keep the feathers clean and in good condition.

Preventing Damage

It’s crucial to prevent any damage to the head feathers of pet birds. Avoid exposing them to excessive wind, which can cause the feathers to become disheveled or break. Additionally, be cautious when handling the bird and ensure that their feathers do not get caught on any objects.

Providing a safe and secure environment for your pet bird is essential to prevent any accidental damage to their head feathers.

Providing Enrichment

Enrichment is vital for the overall well-being of pet birds with head feathers. Provide them with a variety of toys and activities that stimulate their natural behaviors and keep them mentally engaged.

For example, hanging toys that they can interact with using their beaks and claws can be beneficial. Ensuring that they have plenty of space to move around and explore is also important for their overall happiness and feather health.

For more information on caring for pet birds with head feathers, you can visit They provide valuable insights and tips on bird care, including grooming and enrichment for birds with head feathers.


From cockatoos to woodpeckers, many bird species have evolved specialized feathers that stick straight up from their heads. Crests, plumes, and tufts serve important purposes like attracting mates, communicating visually, camouflage, and dissipating heat.

Understanding the ecology behind these unique feather formations gives us appreciation for the diversity of avian adaptations.

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