Does Preening Behavior Reduce the Prevalence of Avian Feather Lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera)?

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2023
Authors:S. E. Bush, Clayton D. H.
Journal:Journal of Parasitology
Date Published:May-02-2023
Keywords:Anti-parasite defense, Behavioral immunity, ectoparasite, Exterminate, grooming, Rock Pigeon

Animals defend themselves against parasites in many ways. Defenses, such as physiological immune responses, are capable of clearing some infections. External parasites that do not feed on blood, however, are not controlled by the physiological immune system. Instead, ectoparasites like feather- feeding lice (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera) are primarily controlled by behavioral defenses such as preening. Here we test the hypothesis that birds able to preen are capable of clearing infestations of feather lice. We experimentally manipulated preening ability in a captive population of rock pigeons (Columba livia) that were infested with identical numbers of feather lice (Columbicola columbae or Campanulotes compar or both). We then monitored the feather louse infestations for 42 wk. Birds with impaired preening remained infested throughout the experiment; in contrast, the prevalence of lice on birds that could preen normally decreased by 50%. These data indicate that it is indeed possible for birds to clear themselves of feather lice, and perhaps other ectoparasites, by preening. We note, however, that captive birds spend more time preening than wild birds, and that they are less likely to be reinfested than wild birds. Thus, additional studies are necessary to determine under what circumstances wild birds can clear themselves of ectoparasites by preening.

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