The birdie, more officially known as a shuttlecock, is the “ball” of badminton. With its cone-like shape, the birdie is truly a unique projectile in how it looks and feels compared to the conventional ball of other popular sports such as football, soccer, or basketball. Let’s check out what makes up the distinctive parts of a birdie.
A birdie is made up of two distinct parts: the base and the skirt. The base of the birdie is typically made of sturdy material – such as rubber, foam, or cork – which is wrapped in a layer of leather. The bottom of the base is flat, whereas the top is rounded like a semi-sphere. The skirt of a birdie is typically made of natural feather or synthetic material such as plastic or nylon. The skirt is inserted into holes punctured into the base, and then fastened by durable glue.
What is the Base of a Birdie Made Of?
The base of a birdie is commonly made of cork. Cork is made by cutting and peeling the bark of a cork tree. The bark of a cork tree takes between 25 to 40 years to be harvestable, whereas quality comes with age. The cork is covered by a thin layer of white fabric such as leather. Popular badminton brands such as Yonex and Victor will wrap a colored strip at the top of base to indicate the speed of the birdie as slow, medium, or fast.
The quality of cork can make a big difference in the quality of the birdie, as lower quality cork is less durable and is more likely to become deformed at a faster rate. Quality of cork can range from premium Portuguese cork, as used in champagne bottles, to cork used in wine bottles.
Birdies of high quality use all natural cork. Birdies of lower quality, on the other hand, may be made of composite cork. Composite simply means being made of a mix of different materials. For example, birdies may use foam made of polyurethane sandwiched between two layers of cork. The layering of different materials in the base can lead to the base becoming misshapen as the foam degenerates, impacting the birdie’s flight and durability.
16 holes are generally punched into the flat bottom of the base in order for the skirt to be attached. Why 16 holes? It’s because standard feathered birdies are made up of 16 feathers per birdie. Plastic birdies, on the other hand, do not require 16 individual holes in the cork as the skirt is inserted as a singular unit.
What is the Skirt of a Birdie Made Of?
There are major differences between feathered and plastic birdies when it comes to what the skirt of the birdie is made of.
Feathered birdies: the skirt of feathered birdies are made of natural feathers from a bird, commonly that of a duck or a goose. While the feathers from both wings may be used to create a birdie, manufacturers tend to stick to feathers from the same wing of a bird when creating a birdie – either all from the left wing or all from the right wing. This is because the feathers from same wing are more uniform with each other in terms of size and curvature. Intermixing feathers from both wings will cause of unstable flight of the birdie.
The industry standard is using the feathers from the left wing, given the rotation that these feathers can achieve. Furthermore, only goose feather birdies are used in professional tournaments, given their grade and quality.
According to the Laws of Badminton by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), a feathered shuttle (short for shuttlecock) shall have 16 feathers in its skirt. However, some manufacturers may use as few as 14 or as many as 18 in their birdies, which would considered off standard. The feathers in the skirt are organized so that a feather will partially overlap the feather above and beneath it.
After the feathers are attached to the base and fastened by glue, two layers of thread are fastened around the feathers to secure the feathers from moving from their delicate formation. This process is also known as stitching. Once the thread is woven around the stems of the feathers, another application of glue is applied to keep the thread stuck to the feathers.
Plastic birdies: the skirt of plastic birdies is much simpler than that of feathered birdies. Instead of having individual feathers that require thread to bind them from moving, the skirt of plastic birdies is one singular piece of material. There is no overlaying of parts, no need to search for similar feathers to maintain consistent flight, and no glue needed to secure the skirt to the base (see photo below). Simple, right?
Interestingly, there are 16 “stems” in the skirt of plastic birdies which resemble their feathered birdie counterparts. Thie reason for this could be due to the Laws of Badminton, which state that, “From whatever material the shuttle is made, the flight characteristics generally shall be similar to those produced by a natural feathered shuttle with a cork base covered by a thin layer of leather.” Since a standard feathered birdie is made of 16 individual feathers, the construction of a plastic birdie may be done with this requirement in mind.
What Should Badminton Players Look for in the Base and Skirt of a Birdie?
If quality is what you are looking for in your badminton game, we would recommend prioritizing the following:
Skirt: choose a skirt that is made out of goose feathers as opposed to duck feathers. Goose feathers are generally larger and stronger than duck feathers, making the skirt more durable and able to withstand the wear and tear of a badminton match. Be aware that even within goose feathers, there can be a variance in quality of feather. Do not just settle for goose feathered shuttlecocks without considering other factors that can impact the skirt quality. Each of the following can impact the quality of a feather:
- Which feather of a goose’s wing is used. Counting from the outside of the wing, the first few feathers are skipped by manufacturers due to their incompatible length. The next 7 feathers on the wing are generally used in the making of high quality birdies, and anything beyond that may be used in training or lower-end birdies. Utilizing the other feathers from a goose may not have the length, shape, or weight for it to be a reliable choice for a birdie.
- How the manufacturers process and prepare the feathers. Each company has its own process in manufacturing their birdies, many of which do not publicly share the details of. From transport of feathers to washing, dyeing, drying, and sorting, each step of the process may impact the durability of the feather itself.
- The curvature of the feathers. The curvature of the feathers will impact how the birdie spins and rotates. Correct curvature will result in proper rotation and a smooth flight trajectory, while subpar curvature may result in the birdie wobbling in flight.
Base: choose a base that is made completely of premium quality cork. Composite corks are more prone to its material falling apart faster, impacting its flight and durability. Yonex claims that their birdies are made purely of natural cork with no added materials.
What Should be the Weight Distribution Between the Birdie’s Base and Skirt?
According to the RSL International CEO Duncan Chau, the weight distribution between the base and skirt should be 55:45.
This may seem odd at first because the skirt is more than twice the length of the base. However, the rationale becomes more clear when you understand how the birdie should fly after a player strikes it.
In order for the birdie to flip over faster and fly base-first towards the opponent, the weight distribution should be heavier on the base. Having the weight distribution favoring the skirt will elongate the time in which the birdie will remain flying in the wrong orientation before flipping over when being returned to the opponent’s end of the court. This behavior will impact the speed of the birdie, decreasing the explosiveness that is experienced when the birdie first leaves the string-bed.
If the distribution of the birdie is too low on the skirt end, this may result in the feathers of the birdie to not be strong enough. As the feathers are particularly fragile, lighter feathers can be weaker, break easier, and reduce the overall durability of the birdie.
Check out Duncan’s explanation on the proper weight distribution of a birdie and the importance of striving for this distribution.
What has Been the Evolution of the Birdie Base and Skirt?
Badminton has been around since the mid-19th century. The evolution of the sports draws inspiration from a child’s game known as battledore and shuttlecock. Learn about badminton’s fascinating origin and how it’s adapted, including modifications to the court, through What’s the Origin of Badminton? A Surprising History.
Let’s take a look at the major changes to the birdie’s base and skirt throughout badminton’s history.
- 1840s: The base of the birdie was not always covered in a thin layer of white fabric or leather. The base was covered with velvet.
- 1860s: Hessian, a woven fabric made from the jute plant, was added to the velvet base.
- 1890s: This was when modern day leather was seen as the fabric covering the base, but was not as light as what is found on current day birdies.
- 1920: A birdie made for the outdoors was produced which first featured a rubber base.
- 1860s: The hessian and velvet covered base saw a single layer of stitching of the feathers. Prior to this, the birdies did not appear to have stitching to bind the feathers of the skirt together.
- 1899: A second layer of stitching found its way into birdie manufacturing.
- 1900: Linen thread material was introduced into the stitching procedure.
- 1930: Chicken feathers and cotton thread were used in the construction of the birdie skirt.
- 1945: Reinforced Shuttlecocks Limited (RSL) created the “Tourney” shuttlecock, which most closely resembles modern day birdies, was created in England.
- 1963: RSL introduced a birdie which featured three rows of stitching.
While the birdie has gone through many more changes throughout badminton’s colorful history, know that there are still modifications being worked on in current day.
Firstly, there are hybrid birdies that blend the features of feathered and plastic birdies. Hybrid birdies are best broken down into 3 parts:
- Cork base
- Plastic shaft
- Feather tips
The idea behind hybrid birdies is to fuse the best of both types of birdies so that the feel and experience of a feathered shuttle can be delivered through a more durable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly product.
Lastly, there have been major developments in an outdoor variation of badminton known as AirBadminton. This version of the sport is geared towards making what can be the expensive sport of badminton easier to access by people around the world. To address the playing conditions affected by natural conditions, the AirBadminton birdie is designed to consider wind and other factors. Learn how you can set up and play this exciting new versions of badminton in the great outdoors here.
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