Kirby's usual method of obtaining these abilities is by eating various enemies and copying their powers (hence the name, "copy ability"). However, Kirby has gained access to other sources for his copy abilities. In Kirby's Adventure, Meta Knight will give Kirby a sword. In some games, he can gain his abilities from a special kind of pedestal. In Kirby Squeak Squad, he can store ability bubbles in his belly.
Kirby's friend Gooey has also been seen with the ability to copy abilities.
List of copy abilities
|Main article: List of copy abilities|
Originally, a copy ability would give Kirby one move, with perhaps options for charging or aiming. In Kirby Super Star, however, many copy abilities allowed a wider arsenal of moves. In more recent games, such as Kirby: Squeak Squad, this was temporarily dropped, so some abilities, like Beam, retained the traditional one move per ability, while others, such as Fighter, still offer multiple moves to be performed.
In Kirby's Dream Land 2 and Kirby's Dream Land 3, there were less than 10 abilities, each with one move only. However, there were also animal allies. Each ability had unique effects while Kirby was riding an ally. For instance, Burning normally makes Kirby zoom forward, surrounded by fire, but when Kirby is on Rick the Hamster, Rick breathes fire instead. In Kirby 64 Kirby could mix 6 of the abilities from Kirby's Dream Land 2 (along with one ability introduced in Super Star) together to create ability combos.
Copy abilities from enemies
The main way that Kirby gets his abilities are from inhaling and swallowing certain enemies. However, an ability won't necessarily have all the attacks that the enemy can perform. For instance, Bonkers (a mini-boss), can throw explosive coconuts, but his ability, Hammer, doesn't allow Kirby to throw coconuts. Conversely, sometimes Kirby can do moves that the enemy cannot. Some enemies do not even yield powers.
Additionally, if Kirby swallows two or more enemies at once, he will get an unrelated copy power. In Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Kirby: Squeak Squad, certain copy abilities, when combined, will yield certain other abilities (i.e. in Kirby Squeak Squad, Sleep + Sleep = Ghost).
Copy abilities from mid-bosses
Mid-bosses can't be inhaled until they have been defeated. After being defeated, they will lie on the ground for a few seconds before exploding. During this time, Kirby can inhale them and gain their abilities. With some copy abilities, such as Suplex, Backdrop, Hammer, Ghost, and Magic, there are no normal enemies to get the power from. Only mid-bosses carry such powers.
Some abilities are exceptionally powerful, but Kirby loses them after using their ability once (except for Mike, which can be used three times).
In Kirby Super Star, Kirby can't create a helper with this type of ability. These abilities are the only copy abilities that can be obtained by swallowing enemies in the "Milky Way Wishes" sub-game, but, as a drawback, do not have a Deluxe version and are rarely seen (with the possible exception of Sleep). (Crash, however, can be seen as an exception as this can also be procured by using Copy on a Scarfy.)
Mostly Kirby never gets a hat from these powers and just blinks with the exception of Paint and Sleep (which do give him hats). Mike will give the "blink" until it is used, then Kirby will get temporary headphones or mohawks. When used, Cook will give Kirby a chef's hat (also known as a toque). Copy also gives Kirby a visor over his eyes when used.
Some games have a special and usually powerful copy ability that can be only used against final bosses (however some abilities like Master or Triple Star can be used freely on any level after beating their respective games). These abilities, except Master and Rainbow Sword, are projectile shooters.
In Kirby Super Star (and Kirby Super Star Ultra), the Starship ability, however, is used before the final battle of Milky Way Wishes, to defeat Nova. The Starship also appears in Revenge of the King, again as an ability that isn't used for the final boss, to fight Kabula with.
Originally, Kirby's appearance did not change when he had a copy ability. In both sequels to Dream Land, as well as Kirby 64, Kirby does not change at all when he has a copy ability. However, in Kirby's Adventure, his skin tone changes to a peach shade, or blue for the Ice and Freeze abilities.
Ever since Kirby Super Star (with a few exceptions), each ability (excluding limited-use abilities) would give Kirby a unique hat to wear (even the Kirby's Adventure remake, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land had ability hats, though the Fire and Beam hats did not change Kirby's color like they did in Super Star, while other abilities that changed his color continued to do so).
In the Super Smash Bros. series, Kirby will usually get hats depending on what character he inhales. For example, when Kirby inhales Sonic the Hedgehog, he will have a blue spiky hat that resembles Sonic's head. However, some characters change the appearance of Kirby's whole body. As an example of this, inhaling Mr. Game And Watch will transform Kirby into a pitch-black LCD version of himself.
Other Ways to get Copy Abilities
Copy abilities, in some games, appear on small pedestals, where they can be obtained when touched. On top of the pedestal is an icon representing the enemy/mid-boss that is usually seen giving Kirby the ability.
Copy Essence Deluxe
|Main article: Copy Essence Deluxe|
In the Kirby Super Star / Kirby Super Star Ultra sub-game, "Milky Way Wishes", Kirby cannot gain abilities from swallowing enemies. Instead, there are collectible items that are known as the Copy Essences Deluxe, that allow Kirby and his helper to switch to that ability at any time once it's collected.
In Kirby: Squeak Squad, Copy abilities could appear in bubble items. Kirby can hold up to five bubble items in his stomach, and possibly one in his mouth. In his stomach, they can be mixed (see above).
Meta Knight is a recurring character in the Kirby games, appearing as both an ally and an enemy to Kirby. Due to his chivalrous nature, he nearly always offers a sword for Kirby to pick up before they battle. King Dedede mimics this in the Kirby Super Star Ultra sub-game "Revenge of the King", except he offers Kirby a hammer rather than a sword.
Dropping and losing copy abilities
Kirby can willingly drop an ability if he doesn't want it anymore. It will then become an erratically bouncing star that will bounce around for some time until it disappears. If the ability star touches spikes, magma, or an electrified field from the environment, it will disappear. Also, if it touches water, it will sink and automatically disappear (though in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror and Kirby Squeak Squad, ability stars are buoyant and appear to be water-proof). It will also disappear if it falls down a pit. In Kirby Super Star, Kirby can't willingly eject his ability into a star. It will turn into a Helper or an ability item (though in the remake, he could do this in addition to willingly turning it into a star).
Also, if Kirby is hit by an enemy or an environmental hazard, the ability will automatically be turned into a bouncing star - though in a few games (Kirby Super Star, Kirby's Dream Land 3, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and Kirby Super Star Ultra), this can only happen with a hit powerful enough.
If Kirby drops or loses an ability and then gets another one, the first one will disappear.
All of these properties go to regular abilities. However, if Kirby drops or loses the Master or Triple Star, it will be discarded by bouncing away (though not in the form of a star), and will not disappear after any amount of time, or by touching spikes/water/magma/electrified fields, or by getting a new ability, though it will still disappear if it falls down a pit and float to the surface of water.
It is also possible to regain a lost ability. If it is a helper, Kirby must turn it into an ability item before regaining it.