Taking Care of Self

Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala)

Just recently I posted an item about Black Turnstones pecking at barnacles. Here I caught the same bird, I think, pecking at something equally important: its own coat of feathers. Feathers are more than fashion for birds. They’re also aerial transportation and health. All birds have to contend with tiny parasites: lice and various mites, fleas, and ticks, some of which can get into the bloodstream or the digestive system and cause illness. Cleaning them off the bird’s skin and feathers is a daily necessity. Conditioning the feathers for effective insulation and flight is another routine that birds must do. Feathers have an intricate alignment of interlocking barbules that get out of order with use. The bird runs its beak over the feather to lock them in the correct position, sort of like closing a zipper. Note that this bird frequently pecks at the top of its tail between the wings. It’s accessing the uropygial gland. This secretes a waxy/oily cream that the bird applies to its feathers to smooth them, condition them, and make them water-resistant. Most birds preen at least once a day, and may spend 15 percent of their waking hours in this effort. Preening can also serve a social signaling function in courtship and other bird-bird relations. But this particular bird was just taking care of itself. Read more about preening on Wikipedia.

Accessing the uropygial gland

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