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their lower back, birds have a special part of the body that has no
counterpart in human anatomy: the
uropygial gland or preen gland. This gland
is located at the bird's rump and it secretes an oil that birds use for
preening. By using their beak birds apply the preen oil to to their
feathers. Healthy birds preen regularly or at least once per day. Birds
can't preen their feathers that are located on the back of their head
themselves by using their beak. So they apply the preen oil by rubbing
their head to the rump, see photo on the right.
Why is regular preening so important? In order to be able to survive in their natural habitat, birds need an intact plumage. It is believed that the preen oil helps to keep the feather structure intact. The oil prevents tiny dust particles from clinging to the feathers, thus it's a kind of protection against soiling and the mechanical stress that is associated with pollution. And there is another important role the preen oil plays: It helps to keep the feathers dry when it's raining or while birds take a bath . This is very important because soaking wet birds heavier than birds with a dry plumage. The additional weight makes it more difficult to fly and the danger of becoming a victim of a predator increases.
There is something special about budgies and some other parakeets: They have invented a clever way to preen their vent feathers. First they rub their beak at the preen gland and then apply the preen oil to the top of their feet and toes. After this, they rub their feet up against their vent feathers as you can see in the picture on the right. So there is no need for them to twist and bed in order to reach these feathers with their beak.
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