10 Things about Birds and Drinking

Day #22 of 100 Days of Blogging

No, this post isn’t a list of the best pubs to visit after you’ve gone birding! Today’s listicle is all about how birds drink – it’s a lot more fascinating than it sounds! (Although pub suggestions are always welcome!)

#1. Birds have varying needs for water depending on their diet and the climate they live in. The water they do take in is used efficiently for the most part; birds lose only a small amount of water by evaporation through the lungs, don’t sweat and don’t produce liquid urine.

#2. Birds that eat mainly dry seeds, for example finches or pigeons, need to drink at least once a day.

#3. Birds that forage on fruit or fish don’t need to drink very much since most of their water requirements come from their diet.

#4. Birds that are able to sustain long distance flights without “refueling,” appear to satisfy their water requirement by breaking down protein (muscle) tissue.

#5. Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) can satisfy their need for water by breaking down fat tissue instead of protein. This was shown in a recent lab study and demonstrates a departure from the usual assumption that birds break down protein tissue. Unfortunately, no links have yet been made on how to apply this information for human weight-loss techniques!

#6. Seabirds drink salt water and need to excrete the large quantity of salt to avoid physiological stresses. To do this, they are equipped with glands near the surface of the skin just above the eyes. These glands efficiently excrete the highly concentrated salt solution, which runs down ducts through the nostrils. The mechanism is slightly different depending on the species. In Sea-ducks and Gulls, the solution rolls out from the nostrils to the tip of the bill, which the birds then gets rid of with a shake of the head. In birds such as Petrels and Albatrosses, the very prominent tubes on top of their bills perform this task and is of course how they get the name “Tubenoses”.

#7.  Many birds drink by dipping their bill into the water source and taking in a small amount, then tilting their head back and letting the water trickle down their throat.

#8. Some birds, like pigeons, can actually suck in a larger amount of water and fill their crop before having to raise their head to swallow.

#9. Birds with tongues specialized for feeding on nectar, like Hummingbirds or sunbirds that have tubular tongues, also use them to drink water.

#10. Birds that take insects on the wing, such as swallows and martins apply the same technique to drinking. While flying low over the water’s surface, they just dip their head for a quick sip without stopping!