Why Does Your Bird Preen and How the Heck Do You Pronounce Uropygial?

Why Does Your Bird Preen and How the Heck Do You Pronounce Uropygial?

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

LOL – Sunday I put my female DYH Amazon in the sink. she never preens herself like most birds do! I don’t know why! She is healthy, so??? Anyway, she was looking a little rough around the edges so I gave her a bath in the kitchen sink! She deals with it but it isn’t at the top her list of fun things to do!

The comment above was about the image below posted in parts of the black hole of the internet known as social media. 

that’s Popcorn our cockatiel who uses her tail

to dust the crown molding just below our 10-foot ceilings

…and loves to bathe

 My response was: Amazons lack preening glands thus can not apply preen oil to their feathers. Since Amazon parrots lack preening glands and do not preen after bathing, the function of their bathing behavior is not entirely clear. 

That’s when the blog bulb turned on over my head and one of the several voices who wasn’t arguing with the other voices in my head whispered “maybe we should grow our knowledge base on preening?” This is what team brain came up with.

 Most birds have a uropygial gland aka oil or preen gland found at the end of the tail and it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In some birds, nature provides tiny feathers to act as a wick for the oil emulating from pores in the central cavity of the gland. More commonly the secreted oil flows to the surface of the gland in ducts then is extracted by the bird through nipple-like orifices.

 Of course “most” birds mean not all birds. The bird species we found that don’t have preening glands are kiwis, emu, ostriches, rheas, cassowaries, mesites, bustards, pigeons and doves, frogmouths, woodpeckers and as we learned early on in this post Amazon parrots have no preening glands either!

feathered factoid: cassowaries are known to have killed people, these handlers prefer 1-ton crocodiles to cassowaries

 It’s no wonder that Amazons don’t bother to preen after bathing. So what’s a uropygial glandless bird to do? There are alternatives to water bathing like dust baths and something we talked about recently – birds bathing with ants!

 hey kids if you’re reading this tell your mom

mitch said it’s okay to play in the dirt – it’ll make you cleaner

 In that the oil these glands produce what is the WD-40 (abbreviated from the phrase “Water Displacement, 40th formula”) of the bird world, it waterproofs feathers and helps make birds sexy to other birds. The oil helps keep feathers flexible and the tiny barbs found on many feathers, from breaking.

 Feather barbules act like magic zippers for water birds sealing out water. On some birds it’s believed the oil is used much like you and I apply hand and body lotion to our appendages. Birds like the Hoopoe use the oil from the gland as a parasitic (lice) and bacterial barrier.

 Another theory is that the oil contains the basis of what can become vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Somehow the bird’s body knows the oil has been converted into vitamin D which is then “allowed” to be absorbed through the bird’s skin.

It has been postulated that similar to motor oil (think 5W20 multi-viscosity motor oil) preening oil will get thicker and thinner based upon how intense a bird wants to make its feather colors for courtship but this has not been proven. Another theory is that the uropygial gland produces pheromones to help attract mates. And what is this miracle potion made of you ask? It’s a combination of waxes, fats, and fatty acids.

 Begin micro rant: if you call us to have a discussion about wanting to get a full spectrum light to help your bird produce more vitamin D be prepared to answer the following question: “has your bird been to the vet lately and gotten the blood workup with results indicating that your bird is in fact vitamin D deficient?”

We don’t want to sell you something while making you a promise that the full spectrum light will fix a problem you are not sure you even have.

I bring this up because of the size of the Uropygial gland may increase in size because of a internal abnormal growth. This MAY occur when your bird has a vitamin A deficiency due to a 100% fatty all seed diet with no supplementation. This can be fixed with a veterinarian removing the growth and you putting your bird on a more nutritious diet.

now you know.

Written by Mitch Rezman
approved by Catherine Tobsing

Mitch Rezman

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I have an umbrella crest cockatoo. They don’t preen with oils – they preen with dust. She loves showers about every 7 days. She has a shower perch and showers with me daily. When she wants to get wet she lets me know. Otherwise she just likes being with me. She is 21. I’ve had her since she was hatched. Her Doctor is Sam Backos. He is an incredible bird doctor and pretty well known in south florida. I do clip her feathers but she can easily glide. I also manicure her nails. She likes it. She is out of her house about 6 to 8 hours a day.

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