What is to feather one’s nest? Definition and examples

To feather one’s nest means to take advantage of one’s position, contacts, or available information to get rich. The person who uses the term disapproves of the action, i.e., it is a derogatory term. To feather one’s nest means to get rich in an unethical, unfair, or sometimes even dishonest way.

In other words, the culprit is selfish, opportunistic, and could also be violating regulations or even breaking the law.

When birds make their nests, they line them with feathers, i.e., they feather their nests. They do this to make their nests cozier and more comfortable. Hence the term for humans. However, in the case of humans, ‘feathers’ stands for money or wealth.

Cambridge Dictionary has the following definition of ‘to feather your own nest‘:

“To make yourself rich, especially in a way that is unfair or dishonest.”

feather one's nest
People who feather their nest enrich themselves by taking advantage of their position. They are selfish, greedy, and opportunistic.

Other terms

The following terms have approximately the same meaning as ‘to feather one’s nest’:


– ..line one’s pocket.

– ..look out for number one.

– ..enrich oneself.

Build up a nest egg

The term ‘to build up a nest egg,’ on the other hand, is not derogatory. If I am building up a nest egg, it means I am saving money for the future, i.e., for retirement or a rainy day.

Put simply; ‘to feather one’s nest’ is bad but ‘to build up a nest egg’ is good.

Feather one’s nest – example

When a person is feathering their own nest they are taking advantage of a situation or their position. Although the term refers to unethical activity, it does not necessarily mean it is illegal.

John Doe retires

Let’s imagine that John Doe has just retired as Blingo’s Secretary of Commerce. Blingo is a fictitious country.

He was Secretary of Commerce for ten years. During that period, he enjoyed prestige and made thousands of influential and wealthy contacts.

Those contacts know that Mr. Doe is familiar with the ins-and-outs of government. He also knows who to talk to in the government to push things through.

Mr. Joe joins many Boards

After retiring, Mr. Doe joins the Board of Directors of seven blue chip companies. Blue chip companies are businesses that investors regard as reliable and profitable, i.e., they are the stock market’s top companies.

Easy money

Being a Board Member of those companies earns him $350,000 per year. All he has to do is go to four meetings each year in each company. He also introduces top executives to government ministers and powerful civil servants.

Mr. Doe is feathering his nest. He is taking advantage of his previous job and the connections and prestige it gave him.

A hypocrite

Many people despise him because he criticized individuals who did this when he was Secretary of Commerce. People say that what he is doing is unethical and hypocritical.

Feathering one’s nest legally

This is an example of feathering one’s nest without breaking the law, but behaving opportunistically and selfishly.