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A shuttlecock (also called a bird or birdie) is a high-drag projectile used in the sport of badminton. It has an open conical shape: the cone is formed from 16 or so overlapping feathers, usually goose or duck, embedded into a rounded cork base. The cork is covered with thin leather. The shuttlecock's shape makes it extremely aerodynamically stable. Regardless of initial orientation, it will turn to fly cork first, and remain in the cork-first orientation. The name shuttlecock is frequently shortened to shuttle. The "shuttle" part of the name was probably derived from its back-and-forth motion during the game, resembling the shuttle of a loom; the "cock" part of the name was probably derived from the resemblance of the feathers to those on a cockerel.
Feathered vs. synthetic shuttlecocks
The feathers are brittle; shuttlecocks break easily and often need to be replaced several times during a game. For this reason, synthetic shuttlecocks have been developed that replace the feathers with a plastic skirt. Players often refer to synthetic shuttlecocks as plastics and feathered shuttlecocks as feathers.
Feather Shuttles need to be properly humidified for at least 4 hours prior to play, in order to fly the correct distance, at the proper speed, and to last longer. Correctly humidified feathers flex during play enhancing the shuttle's change-in-speed and durability. Dry feathers are brittle and break easily causing the shuttle to wobble. Saturated feathers are 'mushy', making the feather cone narrow too much when strongly hit, which causes the shuttle to fly overly far and fast. Humidification boxes are often used, but a simple moist sponge inserted in the feather end of the closed shuttle tube will work quite nicely. Water should never touch the cork of the shuttle. Shuttles are tested prior to play to make sure they fly true and at the proper speed and distance. Different weights of shuttles are used to compensate for local atmospheric conditions. Both humidity and height above sea level effect shuttle flight. A proper shuttle will generally travel from the back line of the court to just short of the long doubles service line on the opposite side of the net, with a full underhand hit from an average player.
The cost of good quality feathers is similar to that of good quality plastics, but plastics are far more durable, typically lasting many matches without any impairment to their flight.
Most experienced and skillful players greatly prefer feathers, and serious tournaments or leagues are always played using feather shuttlecocks of the highest quality. Experienced players generally prefer the "feel" of feathered shuttlecocks and assert that they are able to control the flight of feathers better than of plastics. In Asia, where feather shuttlecocks are more affordable than in Europe and North America, plastic shuttlecocks are hardly used at all.
The playing characteristics of plastics and feathers are substantially different. Plastics fly more slowly on initial impact, but slow down less towards the end of their flight. While feathers tend to drop straight down on a clear shot, plastics never quite return to a straight drop, falling more on a diagonal. Feather shuttles may come off the strings at speeds in excess of 320 km/h (200 mph) but slow down faster as they drop. For this reason, the feather shuttle makes the game seem faster, but also allows more time to play strokes. Because feather shuttles fly more quickly off the racquet face they also tend to cause less shoulder impact and injury.
A shuttlecock weighs around 4.75 to 5.50 grams (0.168 to 0.194 oz). It has 16 feathers with each feather 70 millimetres (2.8 in) in length. The diameter of the cork is 25 to 28 millimetres (0.98 to 1.10 in) and the diameter of the circle that the feathers make is around 54 millimetres (2.1 in).
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- Jianzi: a traditional Asian game in which players aim to keep a heavily weighted shuttlecock (Jian) from touching the ground
- Battledore and shuttlecock: an ancient game similar to that of modern badminton.
- "Making Birdies: How Shuttlecocks Are Made". Official Badminton. Official Badminton. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Adapted from various Shuttlecock Manufacturer's recommendations - RSL, Yonex, Carleton, among others by J. Wigglesworth. May 2015
- "BWF's tournament sanctioned shuttlecocks". Badminton World Federation site. Retrieved 2011-11-01.