A bird has many good reasons to make sure its feathers are in top condition. If the feathers become dirty, oily, shabby, or broken, the bird may have trouble keeping warm, attracting a mate, or even flying! This is why it is not uncommon to see a bird spend a good portion of its day grooming—or preening—itself. When birds preen each other, it is known as allopreening. Many species do not allopreen. They may sing for hours to woo a potential mate, perform stunning visual displays to communicate their intentions, or may share their food to prove what a good mate they would make. But when it comes to taking care of the feathers of their friends or mates, forget about it!
However, there is group of birds that is very well known for being faithful allopreeners. I still stop and watch anytime I see a pair of birds delicately grooming the feathers around their mate’s eyes or ears (birds have ear holes exactly where you would expect to find them—they are just well covered by feathers). Frequently, the bird receiving the massage has its eyes closed and head cocked to the side. I can’t imagine the bird enjoys it any less than we humans!This month I saw a pair of collared lorries Phigys solitarius start out preening in an adorable—and common—way. The male was being groomed and had his eyes closed, letting the female preen all around the side of his face. While watching the pair, I saw that the moment the female stopped preening the male, he immediately started to preen her…for a few seconds. He stopped, she started…for a few seconds. She stopped, and he started. They went back and forth like this every few moments for a couple of minutes. After being enthralled by this display, I realized that this was my blog subject for the month! Luckily for me, the birds continued their display long enough for me to get some good video.
I was standing on the public walkway when I saw these two lovebirds, so the video below was taken looking through the visitor viewing just across the sidewalk from the fishing cat along the Tiger Trail at the Zoo. The video is not as unobstructed as I usually try to share with you, but I think it is cool that you don’t need to be a zookeeper to witness this adorable display of affection…just some good timing!
Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, A New “Tree” for Woodpeckers.