Dragons have changed a lot over history. From their origins as the giant snakes and serpents that guarded treasures and sacred places in Classical Mythology, they evolved into the monstrous Satanic Archetypes of Medieval myth, the fiery Tolkienian engines of destruction and the awe-inspiring godlike beasts of modern fiction. In recent fantasy art and fiction, some dragons are undergoing a new evolution — they're sprouting feathers.
In terms of physical appearance, such dragons can vary from typical dragons with birdlike wings to ones bearing additional tufts or crests of feathers at various points of their bodies. More comprehensive Mix-and-Match Critters may have more even distributions of draconic and avian features, and some may even be primarily avian creatures with secondary dragon traits.
There are, broadly speaking, three reasons for why a dragon might be depicted in such a manner:
- To signal that this is a more benevolent creature than most dragons. This is a direct application of Good Wings, Evil Wings — because people tend to like birds more than they like bats, swapping out a dragon's chiropteran membranes for avian pinions is a quick and convenient way of making it come across as more beautiful, benevolent and likeable to the audience. Even when these creatures are evil, they tend to be so in a Light Is Not Good sense rather than the monstrous evil of traditional dragons.
- To play up an association with Elemental Powers such as air or electricity. It's popular in modern fiction to have elementally themed or aligned dragons, and depicting dragons tied to sky-themed elements as having physical traits of the animals most strongly associated with air and the sky is a good way to visually reinforce such themes.
- Dragons are reptiles, and sometimes they're dinosaurs as well, and the scientific consensus that many dinosaurs had feathers is beginning to percolate into popular culture. Works tying dragons to the dinosaurs may depict at least some of the wyrms as feathered as part and parcel of the fact that the dinosaurs most likely to be associated with them, the predatory theropods, were primarily feathery animals themselves.
See also Feathered Serpent, for another sort of feathered, reptilian beasts with their own cultural baggage (specifically, they call back to feathered serpent deities present in many Mesoamerican religions). See Dinosaurs Are Dragons for dragons and dinosaurs who are portrayed as related or interchangeable. See Cat-like Dragons, for another portrayal of dragons with the characteristics of real-life animals. See Good Wings, Evil Wings. See Dragons Are Divine for dragons who are gods or like gods. Contrast All Animals Are Dogs as dragons are more often exceptions to that trope.
- Birdramon and its black-feathered Palette Swap Saberdramon are for all practical purposes gigantic birds, but their names, toothy mouths and control over fire — including Fireball-based Breath Weapons — mark them as very avian members of the dramon family of draconic Digimon.
- Gatomon's final form, Holydramon, is an Asian dragon with five pairs of feathered wings.
- Fairy Tail: Grandeeney the Sky Dragon is a white wyvern-like dragon with birdlike wings. She raised Wendy, and from her account she was a kind dragon.
- Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Kanna's dragon form is covered in white feathers that are noted to be rather comfortable. At one point in her spin-off, she uses her partially transformed wings as a makeshift down blanket when Saikawa comes down with a fever.
- In Sword Art Online, Silica's familiar is a blue Shoulder-Sized Dragon named Pina, whose species is literally dubbed "Feathered Little Dragon" due to its wings possessing feathers.
- Magic: The Gathering: While most dragons in the game have the typical membranous wings, a few sport birdlike wings instead.
- Ugin, a spirt dragon planeswalker, has feathered wings to reflect his ethereal, enlightened nature.
- Two of the five draconic broods of Tarkir, which are incidentally born from magical tempests created as a side effect of Ugin's presence there, sport feathered wings.
- Dragons of the bloodline of Ojutai, which are spawned from magic storms in high, cold mountains and breathe ice, have great white-and-red birdlike wings, in addition to tufts of feathers on their legs. They're enlightened, monk-like and seemingly the most civilized of the dragons that rule Tarkir, but under the surface they're condescending, racist and arrogant, and just as tyrannical as the rest of Tarkir's draconic rulers.
- Dragons of the brood of Kolaghan, which are instead spawned on the windswept steppes and breathe lightning, have two sets of narrow birdlike wings. They're masters of the skies, and the fastest and most skilled fliers among Tarkir's dragons.
- Citadel of the Heart, as well as its predecessor incarnations, have the fanmade Digimon Brondramon. The wings, and to a lesser extent, the beard, have always been depicted as being comprised of feathers, all the way down to the wings being avian in structure. Bonus points for Brondramon also being considered a Feathered Serpent by some In-Universe.
- Eragon: One of the movie's numerous and... divisive departures from the novel was to give Eragon's steed, the dragon Saphira, enormous birdlike wings.
- In "The Golden Pot" by E. T. A. Hoffmann, it is mentioned that a lot of evil spirits (including the main antagonist) were born from the feathers of a dragon slain long before the events of the story.
- Ology Series: While most of the dragons in Dragonology are either wingless or have traditional membranous wings, the Indonesian subspecies of the eastern dragon are distinguished from the rest by the birdlike wings sprouting from their backs.
- Eastern dragons are rarely portrayed with wings in traditional art and folklore, but when they are, they tend to have the feathered variety. One example from Japan is the shifun, which resembles an eastern dragon with the wings, tail and claws of a bird◊ — or alternatively a giant bird with a dragon's head.
- GURPS Fantasy Bestiary includes aitvaras in its dragon section, depicted as rooster-headed and -winged dragons with macelike tails.
- Pathfinder: Sirrushes — Neutral Good planar dragons native to Nirvana who serve as heralds and servants to the goddess Sarenrae — are depicted with enormous, golden-feathered wings and tails ending in fans of feathers.
- Ark Survival Evolved: Previous DLCs introduced wyverns. In the Aberration dlc there are no large flying creatures; however, there is a wyvern equivalent in the Rock Drake, a large reptile with plumage on its head, legs and tail that uses the feathers on its front legs and body to glide across the caverns.
- Battlerite: The Storm Wyverns that players ride at the start of each game in Battlerite Royale are furry serpents with feathered wings and wolf heads.
- Dark Souls III: The King of the Storm is a "stormdrake" with dark-blue scales and feathered wings, the only such creature the Souls series has ever shown.
- Final Fantasy IX: Both the Nova Dragon and Silver Dragon have this appearance. You fight them both as bosses and Kuja uses the latter to travel throughout a good portion of the game.
- Final Fantasy XIV: The great wyrm Hraesvelgr has feathery white wings in marked contrast to the black, spiky leather wings of his brother Nidhogg.
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade: Fae is a Divine Dragon, which in this game are depicted as large, feathery dragons, unlike their depiction as just white and holy dragons in past games.
- Flight Rising: Two of the dragon breeds:
- Coatl dragons, who are based off the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, who resembles a feathered snake.
- Skydancer dragons, who somewhat resemble large birds with dragon-y features.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- Aquamentus, a peculiar Unicorn-like dragon from the first game and Oracle of Seasons, is usually depicted with birdlike wings.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Downplayed with Valoo. His wings are made of feathers (as in each wing is just three very large feathers), but his body is covered in scales.
- Lunar: All of the adults dragons in the series have feathers, although the feathers on their body look like fur at first glance and they have some mammalian features. Baby dragons straight up look like cats with feathery wings. If Quark is any indication, Lunar dragons likely lose most of their feathers when they reach old age, and appear to have scales underneath. Downplayed with the blue dragons, which are covered in scales and only have feathers on certain parts of their bodies.
- Monster Hunter: Bird wyverns are a subtype of the widespread wyvern clade distinguished by their strong resemblance to birds and dromaeosaurs. Many are prominently feathered as a result, and some — such as the owl-like Malfestio and the flightless Gargwa — are more like actual birds than anything else.
- Reshiram — on of the two legendary dragons of Unova — has this sort of appearance. Although the art style makes it difficult to tell if it's covered in feathers or fur, the fact that it has wings and is often show flying does tend to suggest feathers.
- Altaria, another Dragon-type Pokémon, has lots of puffy cloud-like feathers.
- Latios and Latias resemble dragons but Pokédex entries describe them as having feathers.
- Spyro Reignited Trilogy: Several of the Elder Dragons were redesigned with feathered wings, although many of them retain the traditional bat-like wings (and one dragon, Zander, even has wings made of crystal!).
- Xenoblade Chronicles X: The Telethia is a large dragon covered in feathers and scales, and is claimed to be the fabled guardian of Mira. It shows up a few times through the game to save the humans from disasterous scenarios, its scales have curative properties (which it only gives to those it deems worthy), and it only attacks you in self defense (meaning you have to attack it first.)
- In Slightly Damned, the now extinct Wind Dragons had a mane of feathers down the back of their necks and four birdlike wings. Their smaller relatives, the Wyverns, looked similar, minus the second set of wings and the legs (in some cases).
- When it was first discovered, the feathery dinosaur Archaeopteryx was referred to as a "little dragon".
- Another feathered dinosaur called Yi was discovered to have had wings like those of a bat or a flying squirrel which gave it the appearance of a tiny feathered wyvern.