how do birds clean themselves

Never underestimate a good bath – even for birds. If you feed your backyard birds, you’ve probably seen them stop for a bath a time or two, even if you don’t have a traditional birdbath. Watching birds socialize and take their turns at the bath can be an entertaining sight, but have you ever wondered why birds bathe or what they’re actually doing to get clean?

how do birds bathe bluebird flyingBefore we dive into a bird’s process of bathing, you might be wondering why baths are important in the first place. While cooling down can be a draw to the water in the summer, the primary function of bathing is just what you might guess: maintaining feathers.

Most birders know that feathers are a significant lifeline for our flying friends. In addition to providing the ability to fly, feathers help to insulate and waterproof a bird’s delicate body. While feathers are periodically replaced – every few months to a year – they need to be well maintained while they remain. Flying, mites, bacteria, and other factors all wear down feathers in the time before they are replaced.

However, regular bathing and preening help to keep these vital feathers in optimum condition for longer periods. Additionally, since clean feathers allow birds to be agile fliers, bathing could also be considered an important aspect of survival – birds that are more adept at flying can escape predators with much more ease.

Allopreening editFurther information:

While allopreening involves one individual preening another, preening is primarily an individual behavior in some species. Although species from at least 43 families are known to participate in the mutual activity, it is not very common among birds. [50] The head and neck receive the majority of allopreening activity, with the breast and mantle receiving less, and the flanks receiving even less. Some species are known to allopreen other parts of the body, such as the belly, underwing, tail, and rump. [51].

A number of theories have been put forth to explain the behavior, including the following: that it helps with proper grooming, that it helps with identifying people (partners or possible sexual partners), and that it helps with social communication, potentially rerouting or reducing aggressive tendencies. [50] These functions are not mutually exclusive. Research indicates that various species might take part for various reasons, and that these reasons might vary based on the time of year and the individuals concerned [52]. [50] Although there have been documented instances of interspecific allopreening, most cases of allopreening involve icterids. However, at least one instance of mutual grooming between a wild black vulture and a wild crested caracara has been documented. [53] To indicate that they are seeking allopreening, birds adopt ritualized postures such as fluffing their feathers or lowering their heads. Social species of captive birds that typically live in flocks, like parrots, will frequently ask their human owners to preen them.

There is some evidence that allopreening, which primarily targets the head and neck, may help maintain the health of feathers that a bird cannot readily reach on its own. Eliminating ectoparasites from those difficult-to-reach places might also be beneficial. Because of flocking or other social behaviors, allopreening is more common in species that have frequent close physical contact, which facilitates the easier transfer of ectoparasites between individuals. [48] Macaroni penguins that regularly allopreened had a markedly lower number of ticks on their heads and necks than those that did not in one study. Regardless of social status, season, or group size, green wood hoopoes, a flocking species with a complex hierarchy, exhibit similar frequencies of initiating and reciprocating allopreening of the head and neck. This suggests that the primary reason for this behavior is feather hygiene. [52] Allopreening can reduce or redirect.

The majority of allopreening occurs between a mated pair’s members, and it seems to be crucial for preserving and bolstering pair bonds. It correlates with a higher chance that partners will stick together for subsequent breeding seasons and is more prevalent in species where both parents assist in raising the offspring. [48] Allopreening is much more common in sexually monomorphic species (species where the sexes resemble one another) and frequently occurs as part of the “greeting ceremony” between the members of a pair in species like albatrosses and penguins, where partners may be separated for a relatively long period of time. Given that aggressive behavior is usually started by the dominant bird, it seems to prevent or deter aggression. [51].

For certain species that live in colonies or build their nests in colonies, allopreening seems to lower the likelihood of conflict between individuals. When allopreening, nearby common guillemots were significantly less likely to fight. Fewer fights meant better breeding success for allopreening neighbors because fights frequently result in eggs or chicks being knocked off breeding cliffs. [59] Rates of body allopreening—that is, allopreening another bird’s body instead of their head and neck—increase with group size in social flocks of green wood hoopoes. Research indicates that this kind of allopreening plays a significant role in group cohesion by lowering social tension. Lower-ranked birds initiate far more body allopreening bouts than their higher-ranked flock mates, and more dominant birds receive far more body allopreening services than do lower-ranked birds. Body allopreening is only reciprocal when it occurs between members of a mated pair; in other cases, the dominant bird will respond in fewer instances than 10% of the total. [52].

Preening action edit A shaft runs down the middle of the feather with

Two main types of feathers make up a bird’s plumage: firm down feathers underneath and softer vaned or pennaceous feathers on top. Each variety of feather has a central shaft from which smaller barbs branch outward. Additionally, pennaceous feathers have much smaller barbules that branch out from each barb’s entire length. These barbules have tiny hooks along their length that interlock with the barbules of nearby feathers. During a bird’s regular activities, such as brushing up against vegetation or interacting with another bird during mating or fighting, barbules may become dislodged. Two different bill actions can be used for preening: stroking with the bill open or closed, or nibbling (or mandibulating) while working the feather from base to tip. The most common action is nibbling, which is superior to stroking when it comes to rearranging feathers, removing ectoparasites, rejoining unzipped barbules, and applying preen oil. Usually, the bill is either closed or opened when stroking, depending on which way the feathers are oriented. Stroking is used to dry and smooth feathers and to apply preen oil. Grebes are known for “stropping,” which is their more forceful stroke with an open bill. Penguins stroke with their entire heads, a technique known as “wiping.” When preening, birds frequently shake their bodies and fluff up their feathers. Studies have demonstrated that most split feather barbules can be “rezipped” by shaking the object. [27].

Birds cannot apply preen oil to their own heads with their beaks. Instead, many use their feet in an action called scratch-preening. After collecting preen oil in their beak, they transfer the oil with their foot across their bill and then itch the oil into their head feathers. Birds with longer necks may massage their uropygial gland directly with their heads. Certain species, such as owls, pratincoles, herons, frigatebirds, and nightjars, have comb-like serrations on their pectinate middle toe claws, which may help with scratch-preening. [30] While some species extend their leg between their wing and their body (known as “direct” scratching), others stretch their leg over their lowered wing to reach their head. There is evidence to suggest that a species’ methodological choices may have an ecological bearing. For example, almost entirely arboreal New World warblers are usually overwing scratchers, whereas most of their ground time is spent on the ground, making them underwing scratchers. Preening typically occurs when a bird is perched, on the ground, or swimming, but some species that are more aerial—like swifts, swallows, terns, and albatrosses—preen while they are in the air. [32] The tip of the upper mandible of many birds has a small overhang. The removal of the bill tip led to an increase in feather lice due to ineffective preening; experiments suggest that this allows birds to apply shearing forces that kill the flat-bodied feather lice. [33][34].

Preening can either come before or after other maintenance behaviors like bathing, dusting, sunning, oiling, or anting. Preening is frequently done in conjunction with these other behaviors. All birds typically preen after bathing. Sometimes, flocks of birds will groom one person at a time. Blackbirds and herons are among the species that have demonstrated this.

Secondary functions edit During courtship, drake

Because preening can change a bird’s plumage color, which can accurately reflect the health or “quality” of its bearer, preening may help send sexual signals to potential mates. Preen oil is applied to some species’ feathers to give them a cosmetic color. The great white pelican’s preen oil turns reddish-orange during the breeding season, giving the bird’s plumage a pink hue. [38] A pink colorant found in the preen oil of a number of gull and tern species, including Ross’s gull, serves the same purpose. Because preen oil is difficult to reach those areas, these birds usually have little pink on their heads. During preening, the great hornbill’s yellow feathers undergo cosmetic coloring as well. [38] The Bohemian waxwing’s preen oil makes its feathers more UV reflective. [40] Several species, mainly ducks, use ritualized preening in their courtship displays. Preening is usually done to highlight a unique feature or color on the bird, like the speculum on the drake mandarin duck, or a modified structure like its sail-shaped secondaries. [41] Both sexes of mallards will raise a wing to reveal their vividly colored speculum, then they will place their bill behind it in an apparent preening motion. Preening for courtship is more obvious and uses more conventional motions than preening for feather maintenance.

Preening may be performed as a displacement activity. It is sometimes performed in lieu of another activity that birds are highly motivated to perform but are unable to do. In one study, black-headed gulls that had their nest’s eggs removed to prevent them from incubating a full clutch of eggs responded by preening and building new nests, two displacement behaviors. The gulls demonstrated a marked increase in preening time when all three eggs in their regular clutch were removed. [45] A bird may engage in displacement behaviors as a result of an incompatibility between two drives, such as the need to escape and hatch. When a possible predator alerts them or they have an aggressive interaction with a nearby bird, for example, nesting Sandwich and common terns preen. [46] European starlings engaged in combat will cease in order to feed [47].

FAQ

How do birds wash themselves?

During their bath, birds can raise up some of their feathers on certain areas of their bodies as they splash the water. They work the splashing water down into their skin, helping them get a thorough bath and remove any parasites that may be buried down beneath their feathers.

How often do birds clean themselves?

Because feathers are critical to a bird’s survival – contributing to insulation, waterproofing and aerodynamic flight – birds spend a great deal of time maintaining them. When resting, birds may preen at least once an hour.

Do birds need to clean themselves?

Bathing is very important for feather maintenance and skin hydration. It keeps feathers free of dirt and encourages birds to preen (groom) their feathers, helping to preserve their wonderful, natural luster. In the wild, a bird may bathe during a rain shower or in a puddle, lake, or stream.

How do birds keep their feathers clean?

Feathers need constant care, and birds can spend hours a day maintaining them by preening. They do this by combing their feathers with their beak, to make each each strand of the feather lie flat. At the same time, birds also remove lice and other parasites from their body.