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Seabirds Drink Salt Water

How can they stand it?
© Mike Mercer View Large

Seabirds have no problem drinking sea water. The salt they take in is absorbed and moves through their blood stream into a pair of salt glands above their eyes. The densely salty fluid is excreted from the nostrils and runs down grooves in the bill. As the drop gets larger, the bird shakes its head to send the salt back to the ocean. A seabird's skull has a pair of grooves for the salt glands right over the eyes. 

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Seabirds Drink Salt Water

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote.

[Gull calls]

How is it that seabirds have no problem drinking sea water? The salt they take in is absorbed and moves through their blood stream into a pair of salt glands above their eyes. The densely salty fluid that results is excreted from the nostrils and runs down grooves in the bill. Watch a gull at the coast, and you will see drops of this liquid appear on the tip of its bill. As the drop gets larger, the bird shakes its head to send the salt back to the ocean. [Gull calls]

A seabird’s skull has a pair of grooves for the salt glands right over the eyes. These grooves are especially large in penguins, loons, albatrosses, gulls, and puffins, but other marine birds have them, too. [Sound of waves]

But don’t confuse drinking with bathing. Some coastal birds prefer to bathe in fresh water and will stop at a river mouth or fly inland to a lake to take their daily bath. They seem to relish the fresh water, but they’re quite able to drink from the sea! [Gull calls]

The writers for BirdNote include Bob Sundstrom, Dennis Paulson, Todd Peterson, Frances Wood, Chris Peterson, and Ellen Blackstone. I’m Mary McCann.

###

Call of the Western Gull provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Western Gull [3362] recorded by C.A. Sutherland.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.
Producer:  John Kessler
Executive Producer:  Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org   April 2017  Narrator:  Mary McCann

ID# 041207saltwaterKPLU   seabird-01b


 

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