A group of researchers from the University of California and Purdue University, both in the USA, have found that water can repair broken feathers.
After collecting up damaged vulture feathers, study co-author Professor Marc Meyers and his co-workers continually damaged the feathers by bending them, and afterwards, soaked the damaged feathers in water and left them to dry.
The calamus (the hollow base that sits under the skin) and the rachis (the rest of the feather’s central shaft) were then inspected and it was discovered that these can then recover some of their shape and strength following hydration.
The nano-composite structure inside the feather shaft is thought to swell and soften when soaked in water, which helped to put the stiffer buckled fibres back into their original position. When dried, the strength of the feather had recovered.
Following numerous tests, the team established that the feather shaft was able to gain up to 70% of its toughness after being damaged and then soaked in water.
The study was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.
So it would seem that we have more reasons than ever to provide water - not only will you be treated to your garden birds drinking, bathing and preening, but you will be supplying a potentially life-saving health benefit which can help to repair their injured feathers.