, Volume 97, Issue 6, pp 577–581 | Cite as

Effects of access to preen gland secretions on mallard plumage

  • Mathieu GiraudeauEmail author
  • Camille Duval
  • Noel Guillon
  • Vincent Bretagnolle
  • Claude Gutierrez
  • Philipp Heeb
Original Paper


Preen glands exist in almost every bird species and several non-exclusive functions have been proposed for this gland and the oils that it produces. One function generally admitted is that the oily secretions of the preen gland would provide a waterproofing layer when spread over feathers. Alternatively, several authors have proposed that plumage waterproofness is mostly due to the spatial micro-structure of feathers. The purpose of this study was to examine, by manipulating the access to the preen gland, the effect of the preen oil on the plumage waterproofness and condition. To explore this question, we carried out two independent experiments where we temporarily blocked access to the preen gland secretions with a removable mechanism in one group of captive mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), whilst a second group of birds had access to gland secretions. In a long-term experiment (3 months of treatment) and a short-term experiment (10 days), we measured plumage water retention and condition. After 3 months without access to preen glands, we found a significant decrease of plumage condition and an associated increase in plumage water retention. Moreover, we found a significant correlation between plumage condition and water retention ability. In contrast, after 10 days of treatment, no significant effect was found on plumage condition and water retention. Our study shows that preen oil acts to maintain plumage condition and suggests that feather microstructure is essential to maintain plumage waterproofness.


Preen oil Anas platyrhynchos Plumage condition Water repellency 



This project was supported by a French research grant (ANR-05, NT05-3_42075) to P. Heeb. We thank four referees for comments on previous versions.

Supplementary material

114_2010_673_MOESM1_ESM.doc (48 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 48 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mathieu Giraudeau
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    Email author
  • Camille Duval
    • 1
    • 2
    • 6
  • Noel Guillon
    • 3
  • Vincent Bretagnolle
    • 3
  • Claude Gutierrez
    • 4
  • Philipp Heeb
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Université de ToulouseUPS, EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), UMR 5174ToulouseFrance
  2. 2.CNRS, EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique)ToulouseFrance
  3. 3.Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de ChizéCNRS UPR 1934Beauvoir-sur-NiortFrance
  4. 4.Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Génétique Moléculaire (LMGM)UMR 5100, UPSToulouseFrance
  5. 5.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  6. 6.Centre for Ornithology, School of BiosciencesBirmingham UniversityBirminghamUK

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