Why Do Badminton Shuttlecocks Have 16 Feathers?

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Badminton is a fun sport, in part because you get a lot of exercise to relieve stress. The game is played with a racquet that is similar to a tennis racquet but it is much lighter, as well as a shuttlecock, which is also called a birdie or shuttle. This makes it a little different than most other court sports, which has the players playing with some type of ball. Nevertheless, the shuttlecock can be either synthetic (plastic) or made with real feathers, and there are a total of 16 feathers on each one of them.

Badminton shuttlecocks, when used in tournament play, always have 16 feathers. In non-tournament play, they can have 14 to 16 feathers, and the feathers are either goose or duck feathers. The reason there are 16 of them is that extensive studies were conducted that determined which number of feathers created the best drag, spin, and flight, and when 16 feathers are used, it produced the best results during the game of badminton.

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How Are Badminton Shuttlecocks Made?

Before we go into more details about the feathers themselves, let’s take a look at how shuttlecocks are made. First of all, shuttlecocks are high-drag projectiles with an open conical shape. They are formed by feathers (or plastic in some cases) that are embedded into a rounded cork (or rubber) base. Here are some of the measurements associated with a shuttlecock used for badminton:

Parts of the Birdie
Parts of the Birdie
  • Weight: 0.167 to 0.194 ounces (4.734 to 5.5 grams)
  • Number of feathers: 16
  • Length of feathers: 62 to 70 mm
  • Diameter of cork: 0.98 to 1.10 inch
  • Material for cork base: wood or rubber

If you’re wondering if you should use plastic or feather shuttlecocks, just think about how often and how seriously you play. If you’re a casual player who is not interested in tournament or professional play, plastic badminton shuttlecocks are just fine. But for more serious play, especially if you intend to play in tournaments or become a professional player some day, the real feather shuttlecocks are what you need.

Shuttlecocks used by serious players have feathers that are taken from the left wing of a goose, although they can sometimes be taken from the left wing of a duck. Goose feathers are the best when it comes to the flexibility, strength, and feather structure of the shuttlecock. Why are they taken from the left wing and not the right wing? Because left wing feathers will spin clockwise, whereas right-wing feathers spin counterclockwise. To ensure stable flight, shuttlecocks cannot have feathers that spin clockwise and feathers that spin counterclockwise on the same together. Therefore, all shuttlecock feathers use only feathers from the left wing.

Shuttlecock Spin
Shuttlecock Spin

What About Birdies Made From Duck Feathers?

Real badminton shuttlecocks are made out of either goose or duck feathers. Although both make excellent shuttlecocks, duck feathers are less durable than goose feathers are, which is why some people prefer goose shuttlecocks. That being said, shuttlecocks made out of duck feathers are also much less expensive than those made out of goose feathers, which is why some people choose the former over the latter. Still, both duck and goose feathers are lightweight and enable the shuttlecocks to have great flying aerodynamic stability.

Goose Feathers
Goose Feathers

What Are the Characteristics of a Shuttlecock?

Let’s take a look at the other characteristic of a well-made shuttlecock:

  • The cork. The best corks, and the ones used frequently in formal competition, are made out of softwood and wrapped with synthetic PU leather. Interestingly, champagne corks are preferred over wine corks.
  • The speed of the shuttle. You’ll find grain numbers of 76, 77, 78, or 79 on the cover of the tube, as well as the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. The smaller the number, the lighter and slower the shuttlecock is, and vice versa.
  • The weight and speed of the shuttle. Birdies in 76 grains/1 are 4.85 to 4.91g; in 77 grains/2 are 4.92 to 4.97g; in 78 grains/3 are 4.98 to 5.04g; and in 79 grains/4 are 5.05 to 5.11g. There are other things that affect the weight and speed of a birdie as well, including the temperature.

What Environmental Factors Affect a Shuttlecock?

  • The humidity level. Higher humidity increases the weight of the birdie and causes it to fly faster. The difference isn’t much, but if you’re playing in a tournament, that little bit can mean a lot.
  • The temperature. Simply put, higher temperatures result in higher shuttle speeds. This means that when the weather is cold, you’ll have to choose a heavier shuttlecock to get the same results.
  • The altitude. The higher the altitude is where you’re playing, the lower the air density will be and, therefore, the faster the birdie will go. You’ll likely need a slower and lighter shuttlecock to play badminton because of this.

If you’re curious about faster versus slower badminton shuttlecocks, some shuttlecocks differentiate them by the color of the cap. They come in red, blue, and green, with red being the fastest and made for cold conditions and green being the slowest and made for hot conditions. Naturally, the blue shuttle falls in between the other two colors.

Shuttlecock Color Caps
Shuttlecock Color Caps

Back to the 16 Feathers…

So, let’s get back to the 16 feathers. If you were to use 10 feathers or 20 feathers on a shuttlecock, the speed and flexibility would not be the same. When 16 feathers are used on a birdie, it leaves the racquet within 20 milliseconds, which is perfect for both casual and tournament play. If you were to alter the 14- to 16-feather requirement on a birdie, it would affect its overall reliability and performance. For instance, you could not play with a shuttlecock made with a combination of left-wing and ring-wing feathers, and anything but the 14- to 16-feather birdie simply wouldn’t play as well.

In the past, different combinations of feathers were experimented with, but having 14 to 16 feathers on badminton shuttlecocks was determined to be the most effective combination that allows players to play their best without it being too difficult or challenging. Remember, this number has been studied extensively, so if you want the absolute best shuttlecock, choose one that has 16 feathers in it.

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