The shuttlecock, commonly referred to as a “shuttle” or “bird,” is a projectile used in badminton. The shuttlecock’s conical shape is formed by either sixteen goose feathers or a plastic skirt. The feathers are attached to a small cork base, while plastic shuttles have a base made from rubber or plastic. Casual badminton players tend to be more familiar with plastic shuttlecocks, but professionals prefer real feathers.
The high-drag aerodynamic design of the shuttlecock gives it remarkable stability. The shuttlecock’s narrowest end will always turn to point in the direction it’s flying, no matter which way it was oriented when it bounced off the racquet. However, plastic and feather shuttlecocks have slightly different aerodynamic characteristics. Feather shuttlecocks (often called “feathers”) initially fly faster than plastic shuttlecocks (called “plastics”), but slow down quickly as they descend. Plastics have a slower start when they bounce off the racquet, but take longer to decelerate.
Shuttlecock speeds are affected by weight and weather conditions. They fly faster in higher altitudes and higher temperatures, although some manufacturers try to offset this effect with their designs. Shuttle weights vary from 4.75 to 5.50 grams.
Feather shuttlecocks are extremely fragile and don’t last for many rounds. However, expert badminton players claim that feathers are easier to control and put less strain on the shoulder, since they don’t need to be hit quite as hard with the racquet. Olympic badminton competitions are played with machine-tested feather shuttlecocks of the highest quality.
Although plastic shuttlecocks are made by machine, shuttles made from feathers are largely made by hand. No one has yet made a machine that can automate the entire process, which starts with selecting the perfect goose feathers. The feathers are sorted, cut, possibly bleached, and carefully inserted into a piece of cork with a special adhesive to hold them in place. Duck feathers are sometimes used, but they dry out faster and break more easily than goose feathers.
No one is sure how the shuttlecock got its name. However, the word “cock” probably comes from its traditional feather construction, while the word “shuttle” may refer to the projectile’s back-and-forth motion that resembles the shuttle of a loom.
The price of a shuttlecock varies considerably. It could cost a few dollars or as much as $40, depending on the materials and quality. Yonex is known for making the best shuttlecocks, and the high prices reflect that. Other brands include Yang Yang, Wilson, Carlton, Halex, Victor Gold, and Dunlop.