Do you ever see something so odd that you just can’t look away? I recently had that experience with a Barred Owl’s uropygial gland. This owl was unfortunately the victim of a car collision. When Curator Kaylee brought the bird back to the Museum, I took the opportunity to look at the gland that is very rare to catch a glimpse of on a live bird. This uropygial gland, also known as the preen gland, is hidden under layers of feathers on the bird’s back, just above the tail. It secretes an oil that keeps the feathers strong and waterproof. The bird spreads the oil by rubbing its beak near the gland and then preening the rest of its feathers.
Most birds have a uropygial gland, but owls have a particularly conspicuous one. After parting the feathers you could see the gland on a hawk as a bump on the skin, but an owl’s gland projects out like a bulging flap. I haven’t been able to find an explanation for this difference, but it is interesting to ponder and quite a strange thing to see!