Sunday, December 17, 2023

Preening in Birds

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

What an enjoyable and informative read Val Cunningham ("On the Wing") provides in his article, Birds work to keep clean as a whistle (Star Tribune, November 18, 2022). It is protected by a paywall so you must be a subscriber to read it.

Here are some bits that you may not know or ever thought about.

--Birds are as clean as cats, spending almost as much time grooming themselves as our feline companions do.

--This grooming is known as preening and it is largely unnoticed since it occurs "away from public view." As an aside, I think it takes many encounters and much patience to observe this behavior.

--Cunningham reported on observations made by photographer Phyllis Terchanik of an adult bald eagle who "spent 52 minutes the first day and 57 the next time I watched."   

--Investing time in taking care of their feathers would seem to be important in birds because they "perform so  many functions...(working) best when they're in top form. They "remove dirt that might interfere with their feathers' ability to warm or cool their body", waterproof feathers by "spreading oil from their preen gland, keep parasites in check, and "keeps a bird attractive to other birds."     

--Cunningham notes that all of us have seen birds in birdbaths. "But I have to admit I've never observed he aftermath, when a bird oils is feathers, spreading around the special liquid from a glad under the tail (called the uropygial gland."

--Like our hair "keeping feathers in place requires work." Some of them can be "zipped back into place. This is the job that takes up the most time in a grooming session.

--Just how many feathers are we talking about? Here are three examples: bald eagle (~7000), trumpeter swan (~25,000), and a hummingbird (~1,000).

I hope you read it or, if not, can find it. A great story.   

A very short video (55s) from All About Birds shows a stork-billed kingfisher preening. It is one of the most beautiful of the kingfishers I've ever seen. 

Thanks to Val Cunningham.

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