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A bird’s feathers are more than mere decoration. In addition to insulation and flight, feathers help birds stay afloat on bodies of water. A feather has a hollow shaft and interlocking barbs that form a continuous surface that maintains tension over the water. They also have natural oils that repel the water from the stem. Soapy detergents lead to contaminated water in natural ground reservoirs. This water refills ponds and lakes where ducks, egrets and other birds gather. Detergents dissolve the oil and break up the interlocking barbs, allowing water to flow into the shaft and making the feather “heavy” and less buoyant.
In this experiment, the independent variables are the detergents added to the water, and the dependent variables are the effects on the feathers. The constants are the feathers, the bowls, the water, the food coloring and the conditions.
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