Bird Oil Gland

The location and function of a Bird Oil Gland, also called Uropygial Gland (or Preen Gland)

Birds gather diester wax from their oil glands during preening. This gland is near the tail’s base (just above).

Birds spread the oil on their plumage. It is not entirely clear what this oil does. Everyone will agree that this oil is used to condition and maintain their feathers and skin. It is likely that it helps waterproof the feathers (a concept not widely accepted but which appears to be true, particularly for water birds).

Some authorities claim that the water-proofing is achieved primarily by dense feathers which trap air and maintain an airtight surface. In some birds, this also creates a watertight structure.

Some birds, those who are less likely than others to bathe in water or submerge themselves in it, produce feather dust rather than oil glands. Powder down feathers shed a fine, white waxy powder made of keratin when birds preen themselves.

The “dust”, which is similar to the oil glands in the feathers, serves the same purpose. It forms a waterproof layer for the contour feathers. The species that produce most feather powder include Cockatiels Cockatoos, and African Greys.

This gland’s secretion also has antibacterial, anti-mycotic and pheromonal properties (helps attract potential mates).

Some bird species, such as Hoopoes, produce an oily liquid that is a bad smell. The birds then rub it into their feathers. It is thought that the bad odor keeps predators from attacking nesting females or their young. Just before the young leave the nest, the bad smell of the secretions stops.

Oil Glands that are Inactive, Impacted or Blocked

Oil glands that are working properly will keep feathers in top condition. They also help to protect the feathers from water and insulate the plumage.

Poor quality feathers

The feathers will typically become less fluffy when the gland becomes blocked or stops producing oil.

By the time you start to notice differences in feather quality, an impacted oil gland will be clearly visible.


An atrophied oil gland can cause seizures. The oil gland releases vitamin D3 precursors which are then spread through the feathers by the birds as they preen. The precursors are converted into active D3 when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Test an oil gland

  • Check For Swelling: First, part the feathers and examine the condition of your oil gland. A swelling that is unusual could indicate an oil gland.
  • Verify oil production: Gently rub the gland (“wick”) between your fingers and check for greasy patches. The oil gland will be working if your fingers are very oily. If you do not see or feel any secretion, gently massage the gland. Check again. If you only feel a small amount of oil, your oil gland could be blocked or not functioning properly.

Possible causes:

  • Tumor The preen/oil gland is enlarged, and the shape has been distorted. The small feathers that cover the gland are raised, and the tail feathers fall out.
  • Infection An infection can cause an oil gland malfunction. A vet will prescribe Baytril for 7 to 14 days or another antibiotic with a broad spectrum.
  • Stress may also be responsible for a leaking oil duct. It happens when birds in captivity are attacked by birds around them. It is best to keep them away from aggressive birds in this situation.
  • Malnutrition, such as Vitamin A deficiencies, can also cause problems with the oil glands. The vet should discuss a proper diet, and possible supplementation. Wheat may help your bird’s gland recover and produce more oils. Some vets suggest adding SMALL quantities of fish oil to a birds diet. A bird’s diet that is too rich in fish oil may cause problems. Some people feed their birds cat kibble containing fish oil instead.

Treatment of Ruptured Oil Glands

  • The rupturing glands should be surgically removed as soon as possible; the plumage after the surgery will no longer repel the water.
  • Antibiotics must be administered.
  • For a few weeks, a drain may be required.

There are other possible treatments.

  • It may be necessary to administer antibiotics.
  • Hot packs can be used to treat an impacted or blocked oil gland (but not so hot that it burns the skin of the bird). The hot pack must only be “warm”. The “hot pack”, held gently against your oil gland, may be helpful.
  • Two or three gentle massages of the glands per day are recommended.
  • Reduce stress and improve diet.
  • Some veterinarians suggest lancing glands (to release pus or pressure).

Index of Bird Diseases … Symptoms and Potential Causes … Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to

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