Petrel seabirds heavily rely on their olfactory sense and are thus appropriate models for the study of avian chemical communication. The uropygial secretions of blue petrels Halobaena caerulea, for instance, have been shown to encapsulate elaborate sociochemical information including species, gender and identity. Yet, it is the plumage, and not preening secretions per se, which acts as the final substrate of avian scents. Importantly, the chemical relationship between secretions from the uropygial gland, located at the dorsal base of the tail, and plumage lipids has been considered in only a handful of studies which reported large qualitative differences. The emission process of avian scents, and the possible participation of the uropygial gland in particular, are therefore not elucidated. In the present study, we examine the early chemical trajectory of blue petrels' social chemosignals by comparing secretion and feather samples using Gas-Chromatography Mass-Spectrometry (GC/MS) and recently developed multivariate statistics. Our results indicate that (1) 85% of the feather lipids come from the uropygial secretions, (2) chemical differentiation between secretions and feather lipids includes qualitative and quantitative variations, which both have interesting implications for scent production, (3) the sociochemical information contained within the secretions (i.e. a sex-specific signal and individual chemical signatures) are present in very conserved forms on the plumage. In the light of these results, it is apparent that the uropygial gland plays a critical role for chemical communication in petrels and possibly other avian groups.
Mardon, J., Saunders, S., & Bonadonna, F. (2011). From preen secretions to plumage: the chemical trajectory of blue petrels' Halobaena caerulea social scent. Journal of Avian Biology, 42, 29-38. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-048X.2010.05113.x