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How Do Birds Do That?

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Animal Updates | Birds | Penguins

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sara

How Do Birds Do That?
Here is a good look at the papillae on a lory; those hairy tongues really help them chow down!  | Robin Riggs

One of the many reasons that I love working with birds is how incredibly different they all are from one another. They all have feathers, but some can’t fly, some live in areas that no other animal can inhabit, and some even replace all of their feathers once a year! At the Aquarium of the Pacific, we have a really amazing collection of so many different species of birds. In this blog, I will explain just a few of my favorite adaptations that my feathery friends have.

Rainbow Lorikeets are a very unique species of parrot. They are one of the only nectivorous parrots, which means that they eat mainly pollen and fruit. They have an underdeveloped gizzard (like a stomach), and their genus Trichoglossus suggests why. Trichoglossus basically means hairy tongue, and the lorikeet has hairy projections called papillae that help give them more surface area, which in turn allows them to collect more pollen or yummy fruit juice. Next time you feed our lorikeets, take a look at all of those papillae going to work to get every last drop of nectar out of that cup. Lorikeets also have an amazing hook bill, that is very narrow, which allows them to dig out nests, or bite into hard fruit. Next time you come into Lorikeet Forest, you may get to see our birds taking their daily baths. Since they eat such a messy diet, they need to spend time cleaning up to keep their feathers in good shape, and we provide them with baths as long as the weather is permitting. It’s my favorite time to watch them, since they are so full of energy and excitement.

Penguins have an amazing set of plumage that averages around 100 feathers per square inch, and they spend about three hours a day getting every single feather in the right place. All species of penguins, including the Aquarium’s Magellanic Penguins, go through a yearly molt, which is called a catastrophic molt. About one to two months prior to this molt they begin to bulk up, eating around two pounds of food a day, versus their usual half-pound of food a day. The birds then come ashore to a safe spot and spend about nineteen days replacing all of their feathers. During this process, their bodies even engorge with blood. Every feather has a blood vessel that connects to it, and at this point they look and feel bloated. Our Magellanic Penguins molt every May and June, and it’s like a huge pillow fight every day (and a nice mess that I get to clean up). Birds that can fly do not have the opportunity to go through a catastrophic molt, since they would not be able to find food, or escape predators, so they lose a couple of feathers here and there, or go through a partial molt. Penguins travel long distances, and their feathers become worn each year, so to keep dry underwater they need to replace them. Their feathers overlap on each other, which keeps their skin dry underwater, and they can trap some air in those feathers and release them for bursts of speed. Even though they do not fly on land, they fly underwater with their streamlined bodies and fused wings that have been turned into flippers.

These are just a few of the many adaptations that my feathery friends have. Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will talk about even more bird adaptations!

How Do Birds Do That?
Here is Shim about 3/4 done with his molt. His top half has old feathers that have not yet molted, and his bottom half is mostly the under layer of down.  | Sara Mandel
How Do Birds Do That?
Here is a Lorikeet enjoying a hibiscus flower's pollen.  | Sara Mandel
How Do Birds Do That?
Here's Tulip utilizing her hairy tongue and hook bill to get all of the yummy grape juice.  | Sara Mandel

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