Capturing Behavior: Preening and Cleaning

For birds, preening isn’t done out of vanity. Grooming is very important to the well-being of birds and most birds do it several times a day. When preening, birds clean their feathers of dirt and parasites and they also arrange their feathers for more efficiency in flight. Most birds also spread oil from a special gland called the uropygial gland, which helps waterproof feathers and keep them flexible.

Other cleaning habits can include bathing in water or dust to clean the feathers and dislodge parasites. Birds often stretch their limbs and fluff their feathers to make sure they are all in the proper place.

These preening and cleaning times are generally great for bird photography because the birds are liable to stay in the same spot while they focus on the task. Stretching, bathing, fluffing and preening also put the birds into interesting positions and accentuate their wings and other body parts.

Here are a few examples with notes:

Fluffing often happens for just a split second so it is important to be ready when it happens and use a fast shutter to freeze the action. The reward is a unique image!
Fluffing often happens for just a split second so it is important to be ready when it happens and use a fast shutter to freeze the action. The reward is a unique image!
Preening may offer a glimpse of areas of the body that are usually hidden and often creates visually interesting asymmetries.
Preening may offer a glimpse of areas of the body that are usually hidden and often creates visually interesting asymmetries.
Freezing a dust bath with a fast shutter speed gives an interesting window into this activity.
Freezing a dust bath with a fast shutter speed gives an interesting window into this activity.
Grooming adds a twist to this image of a heron. Birds may seem more self-absorbed when grooming, giving photos an intimate feeling.
Grooming adds a twist to this image of a heron. Birds may seem more self-absorbed when grooming, giving photos an intimate feeling.
A White-cheeked Pintail flaps its wings to shake off excess water when bathing. This burst of motion requires a fast shutter speed and can be impressive from the front or behind.
A White-cheeked Pintail flaps its wings to shake off excess water when bathing. This burst of motion requires a fast shutter speed and can be impressive from the front or behind.
A raised wing gives a great view of the flight feathers on this Gray Kingbird.
A raised wing gives a great view of the flight feathers on this Gray Kingbird.

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