Secretarybird by Rudi Luyten.Secretarybird by Rudi Luyten.

From the Winter 2021 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Some birds have a row of bristles that protrude from the end of their eyelids that can be called eyelashes. But while human eyelashes are modified hairs that protect the eye, bird eyelashes are modified feathers.

Eyelashes in birds have rarely been studied, but Cornell University undergraduate student Kai Victor (’21) is helping the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates analyze eyelashes on birds in the museum’s collection.

Working with curator of birds Vanya Rohwer and others, Victor has surveyed hundreds of specimens. So far, they have found eyelashes on at least one species in 28 of the 205 bird families they’ve examined. They suspect bird eyelashes are used for protective functions such as keeping the eyes clear of particles when flying, running, or burrowing. Victor says most species with lashes tend to be larger in size, nonmigratory, and nonaquatic.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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