Badminton is the fastest racket sport on the planet. Sure, we’ve got the skill of players, the technical brilliance of rackets, and the size of the court to thank for that — but we’ve also got to give credit to the badminton birdie and what it’s made of. After all, without the birdie’s materials, you can expect subpar flight and boring games.
A badminton birdie is made of cork at its base. Forming the conical shape of the birdie is the feathered portion. In the case of nylon (synthetic) birdies, this part can consist of plastic instead of feathers. These materials allow the birdie (also known as a shuttlecock) to have the flight speed and path prescribed by the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) equipment guidelines.
All of these materials come together to form the aerodynamically sound projectile that’s got everyone’s attention on the court. Read on to find out more about what makes a badminton birdie fly all over the badminton court!
What Are the Parts of a Birdie?
A badminton birdie consists of different materials. This is because the materials will depend on the part of the birdie they’ll go into.
A shuttlecock consists of two main parts. These parts are the base and the skirt. Traditionally, the skirt is made of feathers from a duck or goose. The shuttlecock skirt can also consist of plastic in the case of nylon (synthetic) shuttlecocks.
According to the BWF, the bases of birdies are made of cork typically covered with a thin layer of leather. These aren’t absolute must-haves for all badminton shuttlecocks. The only condition is that whatever material the shuttlecock’s base is made of, it should meet the standards of the BWF and is approved by the Member Association concerned.
The same also applies to the skirt. Feathered skirts are the basis of standard for the BWF owing to their aerodynamic benefits. Of course, plastic skirts can also be used for play, as stated in the BWF’s guidelines. As with the base, the plastic skirt needs to have a similar flight pattern and speed to that of a feathered one.
What is the Base of the Birdie Made of?
The base is the heaviest part of the shuttlecock, so it needs to consist of a material that’s dense enough but has sufficient torsion to bounce off the stringed area of a badminton racket.
The base of the shuttlecock is usually made of cork covered by a thin layer of leather. Beyond this, the BWF makes no other distinction about the materials that can make up the base. Equally dense and moldable materials like rubber can go into the base of a shuttlecock. These materials contribute to the shuttlecock’s flight and speed by adding weight to the projectile.
The BWF states that natural materials like cork can be replaced with synthetic materials. As long as the material gives the shuttlecock the necessary flight speed and trajectory, it’s suited for tournament play.
What Are the Best Birdies Made of?
There’s a lot of back-and-forth about what’s the best shuttlecock for tournaments. Of course, there can’t just be one. In fact, the BWF has a list of about 35 approved shuttlecocks. Since they’ve all got the BWF’s seal of approval, any one of them can easily be the best.
The best (by BWF standards) shuttlecocks will often have bases made of high-quality and uniform cork. When it comes to the skirt, many of the best shuttlecocks have natural feathers. In particular, the feather of choice for companies like Aeroplane, Protech, Yonex, and many others is goose feather.
It’s not tough to imagine why cork is the material of choice for the birdie’s base. However, there’s much to be said about the preference towards natural feathers — particularly goose feathers.
Feathered shuttlecocks allow for parachute-like trajectories due to their aerodynamic capabilities. The feathers enable the shuttlecock to fly over a much higher arc when struck, decelerating quickly as a result of the cork base.
This makes the feathered shuttlecock preferable for two reasons.
First, it minimizes the chances of slow deceleration. When a shuttlecock gets hit so hard to the point where it flies very high and decelerates slowly, it can land past the back boundary line.
Since the feathered shuttlecock decelerates quicker, it lands faster, making the chances of passing the back boundary line lower. This brings me to the next benefit of a feathered shuttlecock.
The deceleration of a feathered shuttlecock favors both the server and receiver equally. For the server, the shuttlecock flies at the right angle. This makes performing legal serves easier since the shuttlecock will fly well within the boundaries of the legal areas of play.
Mid-rally, the higher arc of a feathered shuttlecock also benefits a receiver. The higher flight arc allows the receiver enough time to react and return a service or a stroke.
If you’re curious about the other benefits of a feathered shuttlecock, I wrote an entire post on the subject, comparing feathered and plastic birdies.
How Many Feathers Are in a Badminton Birdie?
For obvious reasons, you’ll find just one continuous synthetic material making up the skirt of a nylon or non-feathered shuttlecock. Feathered shuttlecocks, by comparison, have skirts that consist of many feathers.
There are 16 feathers in a badminton shuttlecock. These feathers are usually goose feathers. They can also come from the wings of ducks. Some feathered shuttlecocks come with 14 feathers, but these are only acceptable for non-tournament games or play.
Believe it or not, the number of feathers isn’t random. The number is the result of extensive study and experimentation. The investigations were aimed at determining the ideal number that leads to the flight, drag, and spin required for badminton shuttlecocks. After much investigation, 16 came to be the best number of feathers, with 14 being the bare minimum. Of course, 14-feather shuttlecocks are only acceptable for non-tournament games.
All 16 feathers are taken from the left wings of either ducks or geese. Once again, there’s a method to this. The reason the feathers come from the left wing has a lot to do with how the shuttlecock is supposed to spin.
The shuttlecock travels best when it rotates in just one direction. The feathers on the left of a duck or goose spin clockwise whereas the feathers on the right spin counterclockwise.
If manufacturers were to incorporate feathers from both the left and right wing, the shuttlecock will either spin randomly or not spin at all. For this reason, they take feathers from just one side — often the left.
This leaves one question if you paid attention to the previous section. As mentioned earlier, many of the best feathered shuttlecocks come with feathered skirts made from goose feathers. Why goose feathers? This is because goose feathers tend to hold up longer compared to duck feathers.
While duck feathers generate the same flight quality as goose feathers, they come apart after prolonged play — which is not ideal for long tournaments or games. For efficiency’s sake, manufacturers have stuck with goose feathers for their durability.
Watch That Birdie Fly and Remember What It’s Made of
Everything that goes into a badminton shuttlecock is there to ensure that it flies perfectly on the court. While some materials guarantee the birdie’s flight better than others, the BWF allows any material to go into a shuttlecock. Of course, the condition is that the materials allow the shuttlecock to fly the same way as a feathered shuttlecock.
In closing, we can thank the skills of the player and the materials of the shuttlecock for the exciting rallies we see.
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