Preening is the term used to describe how birds take care of their feathers. Here is a simple explanation of what preening is and how birds do it.
Most animals spend time grooming or taking care of themselves. People take baths to keep themselves clean. Cats are notorious for spending a lot of time cleaning themselves with their tongues. Well, birds are also very good at taking care of their feathers. In fact, you can probably see some birds preening anytime you go for a walk out in nature. It is a common bird behavior that I’ll explain here.
What Is Preening?
This is the term for what you see birds doing when they are cleaning their feathers with their bill.
A bird preens by fluffing out its feathers and then carefully and meticulously combing through them with its bill.
Why Do Birds Preen?
Birds preen to take care of themselves and their feathers rather than just trying to look good. Preening is important for birds to keep their feather clean and healthy.
The two main reasons birds preen are to align their feathers so that they interlock, and to keep them clean.
How Do Bird Feathers Interlock?
Birds feathers are super important and serve many different functions. They help birds fly, keep them warm, and help birds hide via camouflage. The key to feathers function is the fact that they lock together kind of like velcro.
Each feather has a central shaft with small barbules sticking off of it. Each of those barbules are able to lock together if they are aligned properly.
If feathers get misaligned then they won’t be able to lock as well and they won’t stick together. This would mean the feathers wouldn’t function as well to hold air in or to help a bird fly. Keeping the feathers properly aligned is crucial.
How Does Preening Keep Feathers Clean & Healthy?
It may sound kind of weird, but birds spread an oil on their feathers. They get a waxy, oil like substance from a special gland located near the base of their tail. When preening they will rub some of that onto their bill and then rub their bill along their feathers.
This oil like substance does a few things for the feathers. It helps to keep them from drying out and becoming brittle. It also helps to keep fungi or parasites from forming and living on their feathers.
How Often Do Birds Preen?
Birds are almost always doing some preening of their feathers.
It’s one of those jobs that always needs to be done, kind of like cleaning the dishes at your house. You use dishes everyday and always have to wash some and put them away. Just when you think your done, you have a snack and then you have more dishes to wash.
Well, birds are the same way. When they finish preening they go for a flight and then they need to do a little bit more preening.