Having a bad hair day? Can’t find your comb? Barn owls never leave home without one!
Imagine having a comb attached to your hand, always available, always accessible, always on-foot, so to speak. Well, barn owls (tyto alba) have a comb attached to their toes.
Not all toes, just the middle toe on each foot. It’s called the pectinate claw and is used by the owl to preen and clean and reduce the prevalence of lice. This toe has a special toenail with serration, or ridges, on the inner edge that closely resemble a comb. In fact, barn owls with more teeth on their pectinate claw, generally have less ectoparasitic lice.
They also use the hook on their beak to clean and preen and delouse but for those hard to reach places, like the top of their head, where a beak just wouldn’t suffice, their pectinate toe gets a big toes-up.
Barn owls aren’t the only lucky avians with a comb handy – nightjars, heron, egrets and a few other species never leave home without one either.