can birds feel their feathers

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Since feathers lack nerve endings, birds may not be able to sense when one of their feathers is harmed or compromised, even if the bird’s survival depends on it being replaced. And that may be where filoplumes come in.

Keratins, which are different proteins that make up hair and nails, are what give feathers their structure. Filoplumes are a type of tiny feather that resembles Beaker from the Muppets, with an untidy tuft perched atop a shaft that resembles a narrow bristle. Even the largest filoplumes, found in large birds like Turkey Vultures, are rarely visible; they are only a few inches long. However, filoplumes are also commonplace; almost all bird species have at least one, if not several, filoplumes next to their wing, tail, and body feathers.

Despite having studied filoplumes for many years, scientists are still unsure of the purpose of these delicate feathers. Because of their small size, some early ornithologists assumed filoplumes must be “degenerate” feathers; others speculated that they might be useful for controlling body temperature. Studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that filoplumes are linked to a variety of nerve receptors and may aid birds in tracking alterations to their feather coat.

Further research indicates that birds may be able to assess damaged or lost feathers with the aid of filoplumes. Vanya Rohwer, the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates’ bird curator, participated in a brief study that tracked a captive Golden Eagle’s feather replacement over a 20-year period and was published in the journal Ibis in 2016. In order to simulate breakage, researchers experimentally chopped some tail feathers while leaving others uncut. Then they observed how the bird grew new feathers, both cut and uncut. During the course of the study, normal molting replaced nondamaged feathers roughly every two years on average. Conversely, the feathers that were clipped were changed more often than once a year.

“We were really surprised at how quickly this bird replaced the cut feathers,” Rohwer says. It demonstrated that birds can distinguish between damaged and undamaged feathers and can replace damaged feathers more quickly. ”.

Rohwer examined filoplumes in greater detail after learning that birds may be choosing to replace specific flight feathers. Based on hundreds of specimens housed in the CUMV, he is currently spearheading a comprehensive survey of filoplumes. This is a laborious undertaking that entails counting and measuring thousands of these tiny feathers from a wide variety of bird species.

A single flight feather can be linked to numerous incredibly long filoplumes in certain species, such as Red-tailed Hawks. There aren’t many robust ones in other species, such as turkeys, says Rohwer. Gaining a deeper understanding of these variations’ causes and the information they provide about the functions of filoplumes in various species is one of the aims of this study. ”.

can birds feel their feathers

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2 Answers 2 Sorted by:

Yes, plucking feathers hurts birds, to put it briefly.

First, can bird feel pain?

This compendium explains:

This 1992 Animal Welfare article[1] has a similar conclusion:

  • Gentle, M. J. Animal Welfare, Volume 1, Number 4, November 1992, pp. : “Pain in Birds” 235-247(13).

So, birds can feel pain and also in this animal group, pain has probably evolved as a adaptive mechanism to avoid potentially harmful stimuli. This is proposed, for example, by Richard Dawkins in his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. For a summary of his argument, see Wikipedia.

In theory, plucking the feathers could be harmful, at least in the sense that it could rupture the skin and result in an infection. One can then expect plucking to be painful.

In fact, a 1991 study (led by the same author as the Animal Welfare article) demonstrated that plucking a chicken’s feathers actually causes pain for the bird.

  • Gentle, M. J. and Hunter, L. N. 1991. Behavior and physiology reactions to feather removal in Gallus gallus var domesticus Research in Veterinary Science, 50: 95-101.

Probably, removing feathers from a live bird hurts the bird.

There is an issue with the existence of animal pain and, even if it is acknowledged, whether plucking feathers actually causes pain in animals.

Does animal pain exist? It is obviously difficult to know first hand what an animal is thinking or feeling — or even if it does think or feel — in comparison to a human, because a human can communicate verbally. However, humans normally avoid painful stimuli and this is a response that can be observed in animals. That animals feel pain is part of the current scientific and legal consensus. It is well known that many governments have created laws that, in particular circumstances, can incarcerate or fine humans for causing unnecessary pain to some animals. See animal cruelty

Given that the existence of animal pain appears to be widely accepted, what exactly is animal pain, and how is it defined?

Wikipedia Pain in Animals cites Zimmerman for a definition of pain in animals as “an aversive sensory experience caused by actual or potential injury that elicits protective motor and vegetative reactions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species-specific behaviour, including social behaviour.”

Zimmerman M. , (1986). Physiological mechanisms of pain and its treatment. Klinische Anaesthesiol Intensivether, 32:1–19.

Take note that the elements in this definition that humans can observe are: actual or potential injury, protective reaction, and learned avoidance. Additionally, the definition is symmetric with regard to humans in that it describes the typical reaction of humans to an unpleasant stimulus.

We can now attempt to respond to the question, “Does plucking a live bird hurt?”

Taking note of the Zimmerman definition, plucking a live bird’s feathers causes actual harm, particularly to flying birds. Feathers being pulled would bleed, even in birds without wings. According to Zimmerman’s definition, pain would be indicated if the bird attempted to resist being plucked any further.

On the other hand, I saw a live sheep being sheared on a New Zealand farm. The sheep did not attempt to evade the procedure to the extent that one might anticipate in the event of pain Similarly, humans do not avoid normal hair or fingernail grooming.

Is it knowable whether animals experience pain in the same ways that humans do? There is undoubtedly an existence hypothesis at play here. The Zimmerman definition offers a description of pain that is not entirely subjective but rather depends on components that can be repeated or observed in an experiment. This is because the scientific method thrives on replication and experimentation.


Can birds feel pain in their feathers?

A bird’s feathers have no nerve endings, so birds can’t necessarily feel when a feather is damaged or compromised—even if the bird’s survival depends on replacing it. And that may be where filoplumes come in.

Does plucking feathers hurt the bird?

Feather-picking is a common and often frustrating problem seen in pet birds that can be managed with proper guidance. Feather-picking results in an aesthetic defect in birds, decreases the bird’s ability to keep itself warm and dry, and may also lead to skin infections or more serious complications.

Can birds feel it if you cut their feathers?

There is no physical pain while clipping a bird. Some birds are even trained to participate in wing clipping: But for many birds, this could be a psychologically painful and traumatic experience. Furthermore, the stress can indirectly harm them physically by weakening their immune system.

Are bird feathers sensitive?

The follicular wall of feathers has very sensitive fibers. Geese have skin mechanoreceptors (skin cells that are particularly sensitive to touch), that are adjacent to the feather follicles. When feathers are pulled out, geese suffer pain similar to what we would suffer if our hair were pulled out.