What is a Preen?

Discover the fascinating world of bird preening and why it is essential for their health and survival. Learn about the different reasons and methods birds use to preen.


A preen is a grooming behavior exhibited by birds to maintain the cleanliness and health of their feathers. It involves the bird using its beak to spread oil from a gland at the base of its tail onto its feathers, while also rearranging the feather to remove debris or parasites.

Why do Birds Preen?

There are several reasons why birds preen. Firstly, preening helps align the feathers for better insulation, waterproofing, and aerodynamics. It also helps remove dirt, dust, and parasites that could hinder the bird’s ability to fly or stay warm.

How do Birds Preen?

During preening, birds use their beaks to reach different parts of their body, carefully arranging each feather. They may also use their feet to access hard-to-reach areas. Some birds may also engage in social preening, where they preen each other to strengthen social bonds.

Examples of Preening

  • A hummingbird spreading oil on its feathers for waterproofing
  • A duck rearranging its feathers to improve aerodynamics

Case Study

In a study conducted on European Starlings, researchers found that preening behavior increased during the breeding season, suggesting that birds may preen more to attract mates or maintain their appearance during courtship.


According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, birds spend an average of 10% of their waking hours preening, emphasizing the importance of this behavior in maintaining their health and survival.

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