Swans Through the Seasons
A happy sight often greets visitors to the lagoon these days, as Tristan and Isolde are back to their old routines once again. They don’t seem to regret missing the nesting season, and now, as another phase – molting season – begins, they spend a lot of time together preening, and napping. It’s not hard to tell where they’ve just been – there’s a generous sprinkling of little white feathers scattered around their resting places around the shore.
Swans could get themselves in the Guinness Book of Records as ultimate preeners among birds. They take the task very seriously, and spend a good part of their day at it all year 'round.
A preen gland is located at the base of the tail; the gland produces an oil that the swan spreads throughout his feathers. This waxy oil helps to waterproof feathers and to retain heat; it strengthens them and keeps them flexible, as well as moisturizing the bill. Studies have indicated that the oil contains antibacterial compounds, and as an added bonus might even kill lice.
The swan reaches for the base of a feather with his bill, then nibbles all the way to the tip, removing dirt and small parasites. This also aligns the barbs of feathers so they interlock and create a uniform flexible surface that’s important for insulation (and flight).
Have you ever seen a swan raise his leg and seem to “scratch his ear?” He really doesn’t have an itch – it’s just another part of caring for his feathers – a swan’s feet come in handy for preening around the head and face.