A Robin Preens its Feathers:
Video Clips and Viewing Guide

Preening Robin
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Preen Gland
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Video Clip #1: Preening Robin
Watch to see the robin preening his tummy feathers and then his left wing. Before he starts, the robin spends some time preening his back and squeezing his preen gland. This is a tiny, pimple-like bump on his lower back, right above where his tail starts. The preen gland releases small droplets of oil when the robin squeezes it. Then, when the robin preens, he uses his beak to work the oil into his body feathers. The oil keeps the feathers soft, supple, and in good condition. Preen gland oil works the way lotion works for our skin. It protects it from drying out and getting brittle.

After the robin preens his belly feathers and wing feathers, he starts preening his head. Why do you think he use his claw to preen his face and neck?
(Answer: His beak can’t bend to reach these feathers.)

Preening feels very good, but it requires the robin's attention. When this robin is preening, he sometimes buries his face in his feathers for two or three seconds. During this time he is not watching out for predators. This is one reason why birds preen only when they are relaxed and in a safe place. What did this robin do before he started preening to ensure that he would be safe?
(Answer: He looked around for several seconds.)

Video Clip #2: Preen Gland
After a few seconds of preening his breast and belly, the robin reaches around to the base of his tail to squeeze his preen gland. This time he’s doing this on the side we can easily see. Notice how he turns his tail and lowers his wing to reach the middle of his lower back more easily. He squeezes the preen gland several times before it releases its oil. (The oil is clear so we can’t see it.) Then robin goes back to preening his belly. Now, with a tiny bit of oil on his beak, he’s conditioning his feathers.

Did you notice that he looks up every few seconds? No matter what robins do, from the time they awaken in the morning until they go to sleep at night, they are always alert.

National Science Education Standards

  • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, reproduction.
  • The behavior of individual organisms is influenced by internal cues (such as hunger) and by external cues (such as a change in the environment).
  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.