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Ornithology Updates


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Speaking of Ravens. It seems they are already gathering in Washington DC for the first time in a century.




The carrion birds are gathering...


*Ominous music*

That's actually pretty cool, in a E.A.P. kinda way.

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A number of birds have salt glands located near their eyes.  These glands function something like kidneys, except that instead of filtering out a large assortment of waste products from the bloodstream they filter out excess salt only, and being so specialized eliminate salt about an order of magnitude more efficiently than kidneys.  Birds so equipped fulfill their water requirements by drinking seawater, which would be lethal to any animal without specialized salt-eliminating anatomy.

For the most part these specialized salt glands are seen in seabirds, but the flightless dromornithids of Australia's miocene-pleistocene also had these glands, suggesting there was a lot of brackish inland water that they could exploit and mammals could not.



A fossil ornithurine bird from the Early Cretaceous of China's Jehol biota has the first evidence of these salt glands, suggesting that their presence is quite basal for birds.

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4 hours ago, Alzoc said:

Do you know on what principles those organs works?

The question being, is it something we can take inspiration from to improve the desalination of sea water (energetically and environmentally wise)?


Interesting idea.  As far as I can tell, avian salt glands use potassium/sodium ion pumps, which are ubiquitous in higher animals and also used in neuron function.  There are potassium/sodium ion pumps in the kidney too, so my guess is that the salt glands are just more efficient at excreting salt per cubic centimeter of organ because they only contain the enzyme for excreting salt, and lack the other enzymes for excreting all the other waste products that kidneys excrete.  I don't think that the fundamental biochemical mechanism for excreting salt in the salt glands in particularly more efficient, it's just more concentrated and the organ does not waste energy by supporting any other functions besides salt elimination.

The current best technology for mass desalination of water is reverse osmosis, although forward osmosis has some proponents as well.  In either case, the technology is getting surprisingly close to the thermodynamic limits for efficiency of the process.  

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  • 4 months later...

Hummingbirds are total goddamn bastards.


So, due to the drought here in Colorado, my dad has set out some hummingbird feeders on the front and back porch. The hummingbirds, wasps, and chipmunks flock to it, because there is nothing else in like 12 miles for them to get delicious, delicious sugar from. Now, there are two kinds of hummingbirds in the area: rufous hummingbirds and broad-tailed hummingbirds. Rufouses have orange coloring and a flourescent red/orange throat and broad-tails are bright green with red throats. Both are attracted to the feeder, but there is one key difference:






There are two rufouses and about a dozen broad-tails that gather at the feeders, and whenever a broad-tail goes to the feeder, the rufous (one of them stays at each feeder) comes and chases his ass away. If there are two, he chases both away. if there are six broad-tailed hummingbirds, the rufous will chase every single one of them off one after another, stopping only to eat for himself. I have seen this occur at least once at each feeder. I knew rufous hummingbirds were more aggressive, but jesus...


This is why the Aztec war god Huitzilopotchli's name means "hummingbird of the south". This is why the rufous hummingbird is my new avatar.

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