Getting a new pet bird can be an exciting time in your life.
However, it comes the learning curve, especially if this is your first time owning a bird. You’ll need to learn about a lot of things including all about bird molting and bird preening.
Caring for bird feathers can be intimidating! But it's an important part of pet bird care.
In this blog post, I want to simplify things for you and help you understand everything you need to know about bird preening.
Let’s fly right in!
Did you know that small birds have between 1,500 to 3,000 feathers on their bodies?
Feathers are complex. Here is what each feather looks like:
Anatomy of a feather (Image via Birdtricks.com)
Preening helps a bird keep all of its feathers in tip top condition
After all, a bird is reliant on its feathers to fly to safety and to get to food sources. Birds spend a lot of their time preening themselves--in fact; you’ve probably observed a bird preening, even if you don’t have one yet.
But, why do birds preen?
You can think of preening as a grooming activity. A bird removes parasites, dust, and dirt from each feather through preening, leaving each feather in the best condition. With 1.500 or more feathers, that’s a lot of work! That’s why you observe birds preening so much of the time.
The Uropygial or Preening Gland is an integral part of the preening process for most parrot species.
This gland is located at the base of the bird’s tail and looks like a small nipple-like papilla. It secretes an oily (somewhat waxy) substance that helps keep the feathers flexible and coats them with a waterproof layer. Otherwise, feathers would get brittle and break easily.
During preening, the bird collects some of the oil on its beak and feathers and then spreads the oil to each feather, conditioning and moisturizing it. The newly cleaned feather looks vibrant and it feels flexible.
Here are a few reasons why bird preening is crucial for our pets:
Some birds, like parrots, model preening, thereby teaching their young how to preen. Preening is one of the most important bird behaviors a bird performs, after foraging.
You can teach your young bird how to preen by bathing and misting it and rewarding preening behavior.
You can also preen your bird yourself, and it can be a bonding experience for the two of you.
You can learn more about preening your bird by watching this video:
Bird Preening Is Important. Did you know that poorly preened feathers are a symptom of poor health?
Sometimes, hand-fed birds engage in over preening or under preening.
Over preening is when the bird takes on an almost obsessive approach to caring for its feathers. It spends an inordinate amount of time on each feather and almost digs into its body. This may be a sign of an overly anxious bird. I'll talk more about this in a bit.
Under preening is when the bird is disinterested in its feathers. It's disinterested in self-care. Either one of these conditions causes the bird to look tattered and ill. Under preening may be a sign of a depressed or ill bird. If this situation occurs, you'd want to take the bird into the vet for an exam.
In this video, Smokey is showing a normal, healthy interest in preening. Note how he quickly moves from one feather to another, not spending too much time on any one feather. He takes a feather in his mouth, quickly nibbles away at any sheath, and then proceeds to align the length of the feather. Then, he moves on to another feather.
Since preening is an essential avian behavior, not indulging in it comes with a few consequences.
Since a bird’s feathers are critical for its survival, it is important that they spend a lot of time maintaining them. An average bird spends up to 30% of its day preening.
Missing, broken, and frayed feathers are a sign of over-preening.
Over-preening is one of the most common destructive behaviors found in birds.
Stress, boredom, and other psychological factors are often to blame for over preening. Unlike plucking, over-preening is harder to pick up. In most cases, owners report deteriorating feather conditions. Following are the signs of over-preening in parrots:
A lot of bird owners believe that over-preening may be a precursor to plucking. However, that may not be the case if you’re able to stop it in time.
Here’s how you can support your over-preening bird:
Did we answer all of your questions?
Preening is an extremely common behavior in birds, and people often think of it as grooming. Birds spend the majority of their time preening themselves. It’s the process of removing dust, dirt, and parasites from the feathers.
And, of course, it is extremely important.
If you have any unanswered questions or concerns, feel free to leave them in the comments, and we’ll get back to you soon.
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