What is a Badminton Birdie? The “Ball” of Badminton, Explained.

To the unfamiliar, badminton probably looks like a really strange sport. People carry thin and lanky rackets hitting this weird feathered thing back and forth. What a strange “ball” – what is it?

A birdie is the “ball” of badminton and consists of a cork and either synthetic nylon, duck, or goose feathers. It is also known as a shuttle or shuttlecock, but is also informally known as a birdie because of the feathers used to create it and how it flies like a bird. It is built and designed in a way for it to easily fly through the air in a consistent and predictable manner.

What Does a Birdie Look Like?

A feathered birdie consists of a cork and 16 feathers that are inserted into the cork and kept in place with glue. The feathers are connected together with 2 layers of string to hold them in place and keep the birdie’s form. A dark strip is then placed on the outside of the cork to make it easily visible when it is in flight. Finally, a sticker is typically stuck on the cork in the middle of all the feathers to indicate what brand and type of birdie it is.

Badminton Birdies AS-50
AS-50 Birdies

If you take a look at our BadmintonBites logo, it’s actually a birdie – with a bite in it! Get it? Badminton…Bites? Ok, well, birdies have become the universal symbol for badminton because of its iconic shape and look. You’ll be seeing it a lot more if you’re just getting into badminton.

BadmintonBites Logo
The BadmintonBites logo

Synthetic birdies, similarly to feathered birdies, have a cork as its base with a dark strip on it. The feathers, however, are replaced with plastic that is creased in a way to provide stable flight and are supported by spokes that connect to the cork. These plastic birdies often come in bright yellow or white and also have a sticker in the middle of the cork to indicate its type and brand.

Synthetic Birdies
Synthetic birdies

How Heavy is a Birdie?

A birdie weighs between 4.75 and 5.50 grams (0.16 and 0.19 ounces). Anything outside of this range is considered illegal for official tournaments since the weight of a birdie can have significant impact on control and make a big difference in a match.

How Fast Can a Birdie Fly?

A little known fact is that badminton is actually the fastest racket sport in the world. We can illustrate this by taking a look at the fastest badminton shot – the smash. The fastest recorded smash in tournament play was by Mads Pieler Kolding at 426 kph (264.7 mph) on January 10, 2017 – wow that’s fast! Other top smashes by professionals range from 380 to 410 kph (236 to 254 mph). In comparison, the fastest official tennis serve of all time is 253 kph (157.2 mph) by John Isner. An even more shocking fact is that the maximum speed of the fastest train in the world is 430 kph (267.8 mph) – just barely faster than the fastest recorded badminton smash. Badminton smashes are no joke – imagine the fastest train in the world coming at you from just 9 meters (29.5 feet) away!

Since professional badminton only uses feathered birdies, there is no data for the fastest smash with a synthetic birdie. However, synthetic birdies are supposed to mimic the flight of a feathered birdie and may actually be able to fly faster because it produces less air resistance than a feathered birdie.

Both feathered and synthetic birdies actually come in several different speeds. Usually, they come in 5 different levels, ranging from very slow to very fast. The reason why they come in so many different speeds is because the environment can affect which type of birdie you should use. Birdies move slower when it is colder and faster when it’s hotter. Therefore, the lower the temperature of the environment, the faster the birdie you want to use and vice versa.

How Long Does a Birdie Last?

The lifetime of a feathered birdie largely depends on your level of play as a birdie can slow down or fly differently after use. Professionals tend to switch birdies every 3 or 4 rallies and some even change new birdies after every rally! Medium level players typically switch out birdies after every 15 to 40 points. And beginners tend to use a single birdie for an entire badminton session. Really, if all of the players are satisfied with how the birdie flies, then continue on, otherwise switch!

We understand that feathered birdies can be quite costly, especially if you switch them out frequently. We wrote a post specifically to help increase the lifetime of your birdies to help you save money. If you’re interested in being more cost effective with your birdies, make sure to check it out at How Do You Make Your Shuttlecock Last Longer.

Synthetic birdies are much more durable than feathered birdies since feathers are much more brittle than plastic. Because of this, a synthetic birdie can last 5 times longer than a feathered birdie – or even longer if you’re ok with some deformation of the plastic. For this reason, synthetic birdies are more eco friendly and are typically used in lower level play where mishits are more frequent.

For both feathered and synthetic birdies, make sure to keep the ones that are switched out in the middle of a game. While they may no longer be good enough to be used for a game, they may still be reused later on during warm up or for drills. This will let you prolong the usefulness of your birdies and get more bang for your buck.

How Much Does a Birdie Cost?

Feathered birdies usually cost between $15 and $50 (USD) for a tube of 12 depending on the brand and grade of birdies. This comes to around $1.25 to $4.17 per birdie. Popular brands include Yonex, Victor, and Aeroplane. I personally recommend Yonex birdies because of their high quality and durability. They’re also the trusted brand that is used at professional international badminton tournaments around the world. If you want to learn more before making any purchasing decision, make sure to read The Complete Guide to Yonex Badminton Shuttlecocks (Feathered). We break down the different properties of birdies in the post and what you should be looking for as well as provide you with our opinion and description on the different Yonex products.

Synthetic birdies tend to cost between $10 and $20 (USD) for a tube of 6. This comes to around $1.66 to $3.33 a birdie. Once again, I would recommend Yonex products for synthetic birdies because of their extensive research into making synthetic birdies fly as similarly as possible to a feathered birdie.

Where Can I Buy Birdies?

Birdies can be found at your local badminton gym. They usually sell them at the front counter and have a variety you can choose from. If you don’t have easy access to a badminton gym, you can find some in your local sport stores such as Big 5 Sporting Goods or Dick’s Sporting Goods but they will typically not have good quality birdies in stock. Other options include buying online such as on Amazon, Badminton Warehouse, or Badminton Bay.

What is an Interesting Fact About Birdies?

An interesting fact about feathered birdies is that all the feathers are taken from the left wing of a duck or goose. By taking all the feathers from the same wing, it makes it so the birdie does not wobble when it flies and to also make sure that players have a consistent experience when playing badminton on different occasions. If a birdie was made with only feathers from the right wing of a duck or goose, it would actually fly a little bit differently! When a birdie is made with feathers from the left wing, it will spin clockwise when hit. On the contrary, it will spin counterclockwise if made with only feathers from the right wing. Be aware that there are actually some brands that make birdies with the feathers of the right wing but sell them for cheaper since they are not allowed to be used in official play.

A lot of work actually goes into making feathered birdies to make sure they fly consistently and are durable. Take a look at how they are produced at Yonex, the leading badminton company, and you’ll understand why their birdies produce such great results!

Are Feathered or Synthetic Birdies Better?

Choosing between feathered and synthetic birdies all comes down to what you’re looking for. Feathered birdies are great because of its flight pattern and synthetic birdies are great because of its amazing durability. While it may not seem like a big difference, it will be noticeable if you end up playing a lot of badminton. Switching from one type of birdie to another may actually take you by surprise because of the subtle differences!

Overall, I would recommend that if you’re new to badminton and are looking to just get a feel for the sport, use a synthetic birdie. It’s much more cost effect and you probably won’t notice the difference in flight pattern. Moreover, mishits won’t damage the birdie as much and is easier to hit farther. If you’re serious about getting better and playing at a high level, use feathered birdies because subtle changes in the flight pattern can make a big difference in serious matches. Also, all high level tournaments use feathered birdies so you don’t want to have to get used to it in the middle of a tournament. No matter which you choose, I’m sure you’ll have fun and would love to hear what your opinions are in the comment section below!

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