Bird feathers are remarkable structures light but yet durable providing insulation and the ability of flight. Owls are highly specialized birds of prey, widely known for their ability to y silently which is enabled by (micro-) structural specializations of the feathers. The barn owl replaces feathers less frequently in comparison to other same sized birds like pigeons, indicating a much better resistance against material fatigue of these delicate microstructures. We used axisymmetric drop shape analysis (ADSA) of water drop contact angles as a non-destructive method of characterizing wearing processes in feathers. We hypothesized that feathers become more wettable when worn. We also investigated the impact of ethanol treatment in order to remove fatty residues of the uropygial gland secretions, barn owls and pigeons use for preening, on ageing processes. Ethanol treatment resulted in a slight, but significant increase of water repellency in barn owl but not in pigeon flight feathers. Our preliminary data also suggest that the uropygial gland secretions decelerate the wearing process of the feather keratin. We observed this effect in both species, however, it was more distinct for barn owl uropygial gland secretions. The results of this study, obtained by contact angle measurements used as a non-destructive evaluation method of material fatigue, yield insights into the material fatigue of feathers and the decelerating effect of uropygial gland secretions on wear on the other hand.
Benjamin Ott, Annika Müsse, and Hermann Wagner, "The impact of uropygial gland secretions on mechanically induced wearing of barn owl and pigeon body feathers," Proc. SPIE 9797, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication 2016, 97970R (Presented at SPIE Smart Structures and Materials + Nondestructive Evaluation and Health Monitoring: March 22, 2016; Published: 22 April 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2218879.
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