If you were to pick up a spotted eagle-owl’s feather, you might think it doesn’t look like anything special. It has an uneven, coffee-brown color and white patches. The leading edge is a row of stunted barbs; on the other side the delicate tendrils wisp away.

But this unassuming tattered edge makes for one of the most fascinating feathers in the world. Although the design creates drag, it can also muffle the sound of the bird’s approach to prey before it swiftly folds its talons around an unsuspecting mouse or insect.

Photographer Robert Clark’s new book, “Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage” (Chronicle Books, 2016), reveals feathers like this one as the works of art and engineering that they are. It’s no wonder that human biomimicry of birds and their wings has become such an important part of our lives.

Feathers go all the way back to the dinosaurs. Some scientists even argue that the T. rex may have had a fluffy coat, since some of its cousins did. These first feathers were not for flying, but perhaps they were useful for mating displays, staying warm and helping the creatures jump farther.

Today, birds have developed even more complex uses for feathers. The club-winged manakin vibrates its wings together to produce a pure, high-pitched F sharp, almost like a cricket. And, according to Clark, the intensity of a flamingo’s hue indicates how healthy it is, and can increase or decrease its attractiveness to mates.

Although Clark continues to work on photography stories about the natural world and the evolution, he says he has become completely enchanted by the world of birds. He hopes to eventually do a “big year” of looking for as many bird species as possible.