Support
Subscribe
Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.

DONATE

You are here

Preening 101

The number one means of feather care!
© Andy Morffew View Large

If a bird’s feathers get too dried out, they become brittle. To prevent that from happening, most birds have a gland located above the base of the tail that produces oil. They use their beaks to massage oil from the gland into their feathers to keep them supple. A bird first grips a feather in its beak near the feather’s base. Then it slides its beak along the length of the feather toward the tip. This action smoothes together the tiny structures—called barbules—that make up the feather, while also removing dirt and small parasites.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®  

Preening 101

Written by Bob Sundstrom
 
This is BirdNote.
[Bird sound ambient - Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, etc.]
Birds spend lots of time keeping their feathers in top condition. This can include bathing [sound of splashing] or perhaps sunning. But the number one means of feather care is preening.
When preening, a bird first grips a feather in its beak near the feather’s base. Then it sliiiiides its beak along the length of the feather toward the tip. This action smoothes together the tiny structures—called barbules—that make up the feather, while also removing dirt and small parasites.
If a bird’s feathers get too dried out, they become brittle. To prevent that from happening, most birds have a gland located above the base of the tail that produces oil. Birds use their beaks to massage oil from the gland into their feathers to keep them supple.
But how does a bird preen feathers in hard-to-reach places, like the head and neck? Using its beak, a bird can dab oil on its toes, then comb its head feathers with its toes. Or a bird might wipe its head directly on the preen gland—or uropygial gland, as it’s called.
Some bird pairs preen each other’s head and neck, although this may be less about hygiene and more about keeping the bond between them strong and certain.
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
                                                             ###
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Ambient provided by Gordon Hempton: Nature Sound Essentials, Deciduous Forest Country Morning.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2020 BirdNote   May 2020   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#  feather-05-2020-05-21       feather-05

Main reference: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology, 3rd ed., 2016.
 
Good preening photos at: https://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/2018/02/08/preening-rough-legg...
 
on function of preening: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-science...

uropygial is pronounced yur-uh-PIJ-ee-ul  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/uropygial
barbule is pronounced BAHR-byool https://www.dictionary.com/browse/barbule

Home
Shows
Galleries
More