About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dove flaked out in the sun

I have a ditch that the birds take a bath in often. Sometimes I see doves that look like they are broken, clinging to the side of the grassy rise. Should I be worried? - Portland, MI
Doves do use the broken wing tactic to draw predators away from a nest site but what you saw was probably a dove sunning itself. I’ve also seen this behavior a lot, especially in late summer.
Instinct to sunbathe even when already heat-stressed, help the birds maintain feather quality as well as water and dust bathing.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Most birds have a preen gland or uropygial gland at the base of the tail. With their beak, birds realign the barbs correctly, remove any dirt or parasites and apply preen oil. If the bird sunbathes the oil is exposed to the ultraviolet light from the sun. Then the uropygial gland secretions convert to an active form of vitamin D which is ingested with the next preening. This may explain in part why some birds sunbathe.
However, doves don’t have the preen gland. Instead they grow powder down feathers that grow continuously and never molt. The barbs at the feather tips constantly disintegrate into a fine, talc-like, water-resistant powder. If you’ve ever seen a window strike by a dove, you may have seen a “ghost bird” on the glass. This is actually a tracing of the bird left on the glass by its powder down.
In late summer doves are growing new outer feathers. Like ironing our clothes, the heat of the sun might help make it easier for doves to shape their new feathers. And along with easing discomfort associated with molting, the sun may also help dislodge parasites so the bird can preen them off more easily.

Related Articles:
How to Prevent Window Strikes during Migration http://goo.gl/KZRzKb
Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/w0U1M6
Why birds molt http://bit.ly/rGaqRL
Why do bluebirds bathe more than cardinals? http://goo.gl/ZdYRS
Birds Don't Sweat: http://goo.gl/zerp7