A Bird’s Touch
Nature not only surrounds us with sheer beauty but also offers an abundance of fascinating new discoveries that continue to amaze us. Just when we think we know everything about an animal or bird, they seem to prove us wrong. More recently, birds have revealed that crests and beards are not merely used for finding a mate, but serve a greater purpose, allowing them to explore their surroundings as well. Research on birds, such as the auklet, has opened up a new door into the world of birds and their feathers.
Professor Ian Jones, St John’s Memorial University, and Dr Sampath Seneviratne, University of British Columbia, shared their insights and suspicions that certain feathers on a bird’s body could serve to heighten the sense of touch. When looking at birds, such as the auklet, which have intricate feathers on their heads, scientists found that by putting them through a simple navigational test, much was revealed in regard to the role that crests and head feathers play. Using a dark maze, as this breed tends to breed in dark crevices, it was found that when the birds navigated the test, they succeeded in completing the maze with less difficulty than when researchers flattened their head feathers. It was also noted that in general, if birds have ornamental feathering, they tend to be birds that are active at night.
Researchers then looked at bird species that do not feature elaborate feathering, including pheasants, kingfishers, parrots, penguins and owls. They suggest that even if some birds do not have crests and rectal bristles, longer wing feathers may also serve as a means of touch. Many birds use their feathers and coloring to show off their abilities and to either startle or camouflage themselves from their predators, but there is good reason to believe that feathers have various other functions that we have not been aware of until now. The new insight into facial feathers and flamboyant feathering could lead to further studies,to confirm these findings and the preliminary research. This use of their feathers for touch and orientation has revealed a more complex side to birds, and will have us gazing a little more intently whenever we look at these colorful creatures of the skies.