What if birds had to shop for feather-care products like people shop for hair products? What a confusing array of choices they would have to confront! Thinking about the time I spend combing, washing, drying and fussing over the my head’s small patch of hair makes me more appreciative of the effort a bird goes through to keep the feathers in good shape all over its body. No matter how vain I might be about my hair, feathers are infinitely more important to a bird than my hair is to me.
The swallows in my barn groom their feathers with their bills and sometimes with their feet, especially when they are shedding old feathers to make way for new ones growing in. They nibble every feather from its base upward to get them aligned just right. They dislodge small feathers as they shed. Then they take a break to shake dust and feathers loose. Often they take to the wing after a preening session and give themselves a thorough shake while in mid-air, sending a plume of dust and feathers behind them.
Preening is the topic of a small series of feather shadowboxes I am making. This crow piece was the first; Macaws were next. A preening Kingfisher will follow.