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(Crested Auklet Profile – Pribilof Islands, Alaska – Christopher Dodds-courtesy of http://www.photobotos.com)
University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Hector Douglas has found that, for crested auklets, chemistry has both amorous and practical applications. The birds rub a citrus-like scent, secreted in wick-like feathers on their backs, on each other during courtship, a behavior called alloanointing. It is well known among some mammals, such as peccaries, but until now was not documented among birds. His research also indicates that the behavior could help protect the birds from parasites, such as ticks.
“During courtship the male solicits the female by adopting a horizontal posture and giving a soft choking call,” explained Douglas, an assistant professor of biology at UAF’s Kuskokwim Campus. “She rubs her bill and upper body over his wick feathers. Then she offers her wick feathers to the male, and they reciprocate several times, smearing the chemicals over their heads, necks and upper bodies.”
Crested auklets are small black and gray seabirds that nest in huge colonies on remote island cliffs in Alaska and Siberia. They have bright orange bills, white facial plumes and a showy feather crest protruding from their foreheads…’
‘…Birds cannot self-preen their heads and necks, which leaves them vulnerable to ticks in those areas, he said. “When crested auklets anoint their mates, they spread these chemical defenses over these hard-to-reach places, helping protect them against ticks.”
Many animals use scents in social interactions and Douglas said his study extends scientific knowledge regarding these behaviors.
“Alloanointing in vertebrate animals has been understood primarily as a type of social interaction that conveys messages pertaining to individual recognition and the like,” said Douglas. “In this case we see that the social cue transmitted in scent can also be adaptive for defending against parasites.”
Douglas’ findings are published in the German journal Naturwissenschaften, a monthly publication of advances in natural sciences, medicine and technology.( ScienceDaily (Aug. 24, 2007)