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Powder Down

A Bit of a Mystery
© Abby Chicken View Large

Hidden below the outer breast feathers of herons, pigeons, doves, tinamous, bustards and some parrots are patches of special down feathers. These feathers are never molted, and they grow continuously. The tips break down into a dust the consistency of talcum powder. Using a fringed claw on its middle toe, a heron collects some of the dust—or powder down—and works it into its feathers. Sort of like the way you might work conditioner into your hair.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Powder Down

Written by Bob Sundstrom
 
This is BirdNote.
 [Great Blue Heron call ML135383  recorded by M. Anderson]
Great Blue Herons are known for their exquisite soft blue feathers, with lavender-gray on their necks and reddish shadowing around their shoulders. Do they have a special feather-care routine to keep them looking so sleek?
Well, maybe something like that. Herons are one of the few groups of birds that produce powder down. Hidden below the outer breast feathers are patches of special down feathers. These feathers are never molted. They grow continuously, and the tips break down into a dust the consistency of talcum powder. Using a fringed claw on its middle toe, the heron collects some of the dust—called powder down—and works it into its feathers. Sort of like the way you might work conditioner into your hair.
[Great Blue Heron sounds]
And herons are special. Most birds don’t have powder down feathers, except for some parrots, pigeons, and doves ... and tinamous ... and bustards. It’s an odd list of birds that aren’t closely related.
[sounds of a Great Blue Heron breeding colony ML 163809141]
This magical beauty powder may help herons waterproof their feathers, while removing  fish gunk and other grunge. It may also add luster to the feathers, which could be important during the breeding season.
[sounds of a Great Blue Heron breeding colony]
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
                                                             ###
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML135383  recorded by M. Anderson. ML 163809141 recorded by A Spencer.]
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2020 BirdNote   May  2020       Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#  plumage-05-2020-05-27    plumage-05


Sources:
https://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/06/powder-down-and-the-black-crowned-n...
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/overview

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