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Ruffed Grouse Preening

ruffed grouse preening IMG_3515Birds have up to 25,000 feathers, and most birds preen, or clean, waterproof and align their feathers, several times a day. Ruffed grouse, as well as most other birds, possess an uropygial gland, or preen gland, on their rump. (Some types of birds, including owls, pigeons, parrots and hawks, lack an uropygial gland and instead have specialized feathers that disintegrate into powder down, which serves the same purpose as preen oil.) The preen gland produces a waxy substance that helps waterproof feathers and keeps them flexible.

Ruffed grouse reach back and rub their beaks on this gland, and then distribute the wax on their body and wing feathers by stroking them toward the tip. The grouse grasps a feather near the base and draws it through the partly close beak, nibbling as it goes. This distributes the wax and cleans parasites from the feathers. In order to preen its head, the grouse must rub it on other parts of its body. Preening is usually done in a fairly open setting but with a degree of overhead protection, so that the grouse can watch for terrestrial predators, while being protected from hawks and owls.

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9 responses

  1. boy you are up early today!


    October 30, 2014 at 10:49 am

  2. Kathie Fiveash

    How perfectly amazing and beautiful, the way other beings go about their lives.

    October 30, 2014 at 11:22 am

  3. Perhaps powder down is what makes a silhouette on a window pane after a bird flies into it?

    October 30, 2014 at 11:38 am

  4. lburdick

    Do you think we can do this with the wax in our ears???!!,

    Sent from my iPad


    October 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

  5. joan waltermire

    It turns out that feathers are waterproof even without the wax. I’ve been working on an exhibit about feathers at the Montshire Museum, and have learned that researchers stripped a feather of its oils and took very close-up images of it after dropping water on it. The water beaded up. There’s an image of a water drop sitting happily on top of an oil-free feather. Apparently the structure of the barbs/barbules is responsible for this. I wonder if they really succeeded in getting rid of the wax, or is there oil and wax involved?

    October 30, 2014 at 11:59 am

  6. Rachael Cohen

    I notice that the grouse’s tail feathers are very different lengths, indicating that it has molted fairly recently and the feathers are still growing back.

    October 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    • Very observant of you, Rachael!

      October 31, 2014 at 1:27 am

      • I hadn’t heard this, Joan. Fascinating! Thanks a lot.

        October 31, 2014 at 1:28 am

  7. I love the colors of grouse feathers – perfect camouflage!

    November 1, 2014 at 7:15 pm

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