Sunday, 8 January 2012

Grey fantail


Grey fantails sport a magnificent set of whiskers. They are the Jimmy Edwardses of the bird world. The facial bristles, which are pared back feathers, are divided into four groups set around the beak. Of these, the longest are those along the lower beak. At approximately 9 mm in length, they project beyond the beak’s tip. They are just visible in this photo.

Bristles serve several functions. In diurnal birds that hawk for prey, they are thought to protect the bird’s eyes from aggressive or wayward insects, present information about the position of prey caught by the beak and provide feedback on airflow around the head. This last function is useful in giving the bird an idea of its position in relation to flying prey.


You can see the bristles and get an idea of the restless behaviour of these little birds in this video from the Internet Bird Collection.

Reference
Cunningham, S.J., Alley, M.R. & Castro, I. (2011). Facial bristle feather histology and morphology in New Zealand birds: implications for function. Journal of Morphology 272: 118–128

7 comments:

sarala said...

Thanks for the education about the bristles. Birds are amazing aren't they? Well, all of nature I guess.

mick said...

Beautiful bird and great photo. I still haven't taken a photo of a fantail that I am happy with :-(

Snail said...

Sarala, they are! And yes --- it's all amazing --- so much to learn about, big amd small.

Snail said...

Mick, thanks! You'd know how many pics got deleted. How can such a conspicuous and 'tame' bird cause all those headaches for photographers?

Snail said...

That was a rhetorical q, of course. More than once, I've demanded that a fantail sits still. With no success.

Patricia K. Lichen said...

The whiskers make me think of the common nighthawks we have here in the US. Wonder if nighthawks are "common" in Oz?

Snail said...

We don't have nighthawks, but we do have three species of nightjars which are from the same family as the nighthawks. We also have the wonderful frogmouths (tawny, Papuan and marbled) and one species of owlet-nightjar.

They all have a bouquet of bristles around the beak. (I'm sure bouquet isn't an appropriate collective noun.)