If you frequently observe your bird combing through her feathers meticulously with her beak, she's not just being random. She's actually being a tidy and neat bird -- a self-grooming process referred to as "preening" within the avian world. In many ways, preening is the birdie equivalent of a thorough shower and hair shampooing.
If your hair ever looks lackluster and dull, chances are you bring it back to life with a deep conditioning or hot oil treatment. Birds aren't too different in that sense, only they employ their uropygial glands instead of store-bought grooming products. These glands emit an oil that helps to keep a bird's feathers glossy and lustrous. They are situated directly on top of birds' tails. Many varieties of pet birds possess these glands, although a handful of them do not, such as hyacinth macaws. By massaging the feathers with a combination of their beaks and the oil, birds have a pretty strong beauty regimen.
Not only is preening beneficial for keeping feathers attractive, it also is handy for eliminating pesky dirt or dust that may be lingering on them. Preening is similar to the feline penchant for grooming using the tongue -- a way of getting rid of anything yucky. This cuts down on the grooming work for you, as a pet owner. Your main job in that department is to regularly cut your bird's nails.
If a bird's feathers are looking rather disorderly and disheveled, preening also can help revert them to their former flawless glory. If a bird has a few random feathers sticking out in the wrong direction, preening can take care of that, smoothing everything down into a perfect "coiffure."
When a bird preens another bird other than himself, the behavior is known as "allopreening." The reason for allopreening is somewhat cleanliness-related, although it also has another vital function -- strengthening the tie between a pair of birds. If a bird preens another, it is a sign of affection and fondness. It is a companionable behavior that indicates a strong connection -- and birds sure enjoy being preened by another.
Preening in birds is a sign of relaxation. If a bird is preening, then she is displaying a measure of ease with her environment. Stressed out birds often neglect their preening duties -- they simply are unable to concentrate on them.