Parasitology, Harold W. Manter Laboratory of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Open Ornithology Journal (2010) 3: 41-71.

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Copyright 2010, the authors. Open access material

License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)


Birds are plagued by an impressive diversity of ectoparasites, ranging from feather-feeding lice, to feather-degrading bacteria. Many of these ectoparasites have severe negative effects on host fitness. It is therefore not surprising that selection on birds has favored a variety of possible adaptations for dealing with ectoparasites. The functional significance of some of these defenses has been well documented. Others have barely been studied, much less tested rigorously. In this article we review the evidence--or lack thereof--for many of the purported mechanisms birds have for dealing with ectoparasites. We concentrate on features of the plumage and its components, as well as anti-parasite behaviors. In some cases, we present original data from our own recent work. We make recommendations for future studies that could improve our understanding of this poorly known aspect of avian biology.