A variety of birds may use their crests and protruberant feathers to feel their surroundings. Studies were conducted on auklets, who breed in dark, rocky crevices.
The researchers placed individual auklets into a dark experimental maze, designed to resemble a natural crevice, and recorded how often they bumped into things. Both crested and whiskered auklets bumped their heads 2.5 times more often if their feathers on their heads had been artificially flattened.
When the ornithologists then compared the lifestyles of birds with their feather patterns, they found that "Birds that live in complex, cluttered habitats and are active at night tend to have a greater probability to express such facial feathers."
Cat owners will not be surprised by this news, since whiskers serve an equivalent purpose.
Coincidentally, this week National Geographic is reporting the existence of a tentacled snake whose head appendages are used to find prey in murky lakes at night.