, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 251–260

Chemistry of preen gland secretions of passerines: different pathways to same goal? why?


    • Laboratory of OrnithologyCornell University
  • André A. Dhondt
    • Laboratory of OrnithologyCornell University
  • David Rosane
    • Plant SciencesCornell University
    • Nurture New York’s Nature, Inc.
  • Eloy Rodriguez
    • Plant SciencesCornell University
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00049-005-0318-4

Cite this article as:
Haribal, M., Dhondt, A.A., Rosane, D. et al. Chemoecology (2005) 15: 251. doi:10.1007/s00049-005-0318-4


Passeriformes is the largest order of birds and includes one third of the bird species of the world, living in very diverse habitats. We investigated the chemistry of preen gland secretions of some groups of passerines from temperate regions found in diverse microhabitats. Some of the common components were mixtures of homologous monoesters made up of long chain acids and alcohols. Individual species had characteristic distribution of esters and was unique to a given species, although there were some individual variations. We compared the composition of acids and alcohols that formed same molecular weight esters in different species and we found that the combination of acids and alcohols to arrive at same molecular compositions varied distinctly between species. To compare compositions of over all acids and alcohols that formed the esters, the representative samples of secretions from the individual species were transesterfied the produce methyl esters and alcohols. We found that there were distinct differences in number of acids and alcohols that produced the combination of homologous mixtures of esters. Also they differed both qualitatively and quantitatively. There were also seasonal differences in the secretion components. Thus though the intact mixtures of esters in individual species had some similarities, they were very complex mixtures and differed characteristically for individual species. Here we discuss possible causes for evolution of these variations. We suggest that the evolution in variation of preen gland secretion is probably due to selective pressures caused by ectosymbionts such as feather-mites and feather-chewing lice that live on feathers and probably feed on the secretions and surrounding environments

Key words.

preen glandssecretionbirdslongchain estersCorvidaeEmberizidaeFringillidaeMimidaePasserinesPasseriformeschemistryectosymbionts

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2005