Adelie Penguin Adaptations: Preening

Preening is an activity used by many birds to groom their feathers. Penguin feathers are exposed to cold winds, icy water, and lots of dirt, but must serve as a penguin's protection against these elements. Preening maintains the feathers' water- and wind-proofing ability.

An Adelie penguin with clean, healthy feathers. A gland near the base of the Adelie penguin's tail produces an oil that the penguin applies to its feathers. The oil keeps the feather smooth, clean and waterproof.
The Adelie's beak is used to pick up the oil from the gland. Fluffing and separating the feathers, while spreading the oil around, is part of the preening process. With oil on its beak, the penguin gently bites groups of feathers, which removes any dried dirt and leaves the oil on them.
In order to distribute oil onto its head and neck feathers, which it can not bite with its bill, it first extracts oil from the gland, getting it on its bill, and then runs its bill along the leading edge of its wing.
Then he rubs the edge of the wing all over his head and neck to distribute the oil in that area where his beak can not reach.
Preening takes a long time but is a very important process in keeping the feathers healthy. The penguins preen during a lot of the time when they are just standing around on the nest or with their eggs or chicks. Actually, they preen every day, winter or summer. Wind, ice and water take their toll on penguin feathers. In spite of daily preening, an Adelie penguin's feathers wear out. After the breeding season, Adelies will loose their feathers (molt) and grow new ones. They have to feed a lot before doing so, to become very fat, because for the 2-3 week it takes to molt they will not enter the water to catch food.