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Great Blue Heron “Powder Down”

Hidden beneath the outer breast feathers of Great Blue Herons are patches of special down feathers. These feathers grow continuously and are never molted.  When combed with the fringed, or pectinated, claw on a Great Blue Heron’s middle toe, the tips of these feathers break down into a dust the consistency of talcum powder.  The heron collects some of this “powder down” and applies it to its feathers which protects them against fish slime and other oils. (BirdNote)

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12 responses

  1. The best kind of dandruff, sort of. Great info and a wonderful photo as usual Mary.

    August 29, 2022 at 8:31 am

  2. I am always admiring of how animals try to keep themselves clean. This heron’s way is new and thrilling. You could write a book on this theme, “Keeping Clean”.

    August 29, 2022 at 9:22 am

    • What a great idea! I’d love to know your favorite animal cleansers!

      August 29, 2022 at 9:53 am

      • Well Mary, after you write this book on the many ways different animals keep themselves clean, I will tell you which technique is my favorite.

        I think this book might also make an impression upon kids or adults who are “dirty birds” or who keep a messy den. Because part of the impact of such a book would be how keeping clean keeps animals healthier, conveys a good social status, attracts friends and mates of the same species and does not convey smells which attract predators. (Sorry for the poor sentence construction.)

        August 29, 2022 at 10:54 am

  3. Alice

    So interesting. It amazes me how animals have all these instincts, because so much just can’t be taught. These birds are so impressive & so is your photo!

    August 29, 2022 at 9:48 am

  4. Great shot! I Love Blue Heron’s! This is just such fantastic interesting facts about their self care! Very Nice! Thank You! 🙂 ❤

    August 29, 2022 at 9:58 am

  5. I love this information, as well; and the photo is remarkable! But can you explain a bit more about what you’ve described, and what we’re seeing in this photo? I’ve never seen a heron from this angle!
    For example, what are the dark areas to either side of the bird’s head? Are they its wings, or…? What are the really long feathers (I guess – I know they’re not whiskers!) that radiate out from what I guess are the down feathers you’ve mentioned? Are these the “outer breast feathers?” What is the green on its legs and feet? And how the heck does the heron apply the “powder down” to its other feathers? Does it do this while balancing on one leg (which I know they’re very good at)? Or does it actually do its preening while in its nest, or…?

    Practically all of your posts tell me about things I had not known or even thought about before, which is one of the things I love about each of your posts! Along with continuously expanding my appreciation of the wonders of the natural world, thank you for repeatedly opening my curiosity up in all sorts of unexpected directions!! – Dell Waterhouse

    August 29, 2022 at 10:31 am

    • Hi Dell,
      I was down low in a canoe and managed to get this perspective when I photographed the heron. Herons have what are called “ornamental” feathers or plumes…on the back of their crown (occipital plumes), their “shoulders” (scapular plumes) and their breasts ( pectoral plumes).
      They apply the powder while standing on one or both legs, with their bill. The green vegetation, I believe, is Duckweed. Thank you for your very kind words.

      August 29, 2022 at 12:45 pm

      • Mary, thanks for all this extra, to explain all the things I was wondering about! You are truly a font of information!

        September 1, 2022 at 1:46 pm

  6. Rita Pitkin

    WOW! I had no idea. Thank you Mary.

    August 29, 2022 at 1:33 pm

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