A shuttlecock is a high-drag projectile used in the sport of badminton. It has an open conical shape: the cone is formed from sixteen overlapping goose feathers 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; it may also be known as a bird or birdie. The abbreviation cock is rarely used. 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.
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. For this reason, many clubs prefer to play with plastics.
The playing characteristics of plastics and feathers are substantially different. Plastics fly slower on initial impact but slow down less towards the end of their flight. 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.
Most experienced and skillful players greatly prefer feathers, and serious tournaments or leagues are almost always played using feather shuttlecocks. Experienced players generally prefer the "feel" of feathered shuttlecocks, and assert that they are better able to control the flight of feathers than of plastics. Because feather shuttles fly more quickly off the racquet face they also tend to cause less shoulder impact and injury. In Asia, where feather shuttlecocks are more affordable than in Europe and North America, plastic shuttlecocks are hardly used at all. All senior international tournaments use only feather shuttlecocks of the highest quality.