Head scratching among terrestrial birds

on 8th March 2016

K'fisherCo-scratch [HioJohn]

Birds scratch their head when there is a need to respond to an itch, a spot where the bill cannot reach, like the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) above or the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) below.

HeronP-scratch [LianYeeMing]

This is also seen in the Wandering Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna arcu) below.

WhistlingDuckW-scratch [JWee]

In all the three cases above they scratch their head by the direct method by raising their foot from under the wing. Such a method is seen in most terrestrial birds species.

Scratching is also a way to preen the head feathers as well as to dislodge and remove old feathers during moulting.

Then there is the indirect method of scratching, especially among aboreal birds. Here, the leg is extended over the wing to reach the head. However, there are very few images of these around.

Photo Credit: Hio John (Common Kingfisher), Lian Yee Ming (Purple Heron) and Johnny Wee (Wandering Whistling-duck).

This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behavior through photography and videography to a wider audience.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

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