Why Can Some Birds Drink Saltwater? Mechanism Explained

Why Can Some Birds Drink Saltwater

Although 71 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, the majority of it is impossible to drink, that is about 96.5 percent of all that water is extremely salty and undrinkable, held by oceans and seas. 

That is why a human being stranded in the middle of the sea is a scary thing and not a sure-shot survival mechanism. 

All the water around him will only make things worse internally, only worsening your dehydration. 

If you are confused as to how that works, just understand the mechanism of a kidney – it makes urine to get rid of excess salt and that urine is less salty than seawater. 

So when you give your kidneys the saltiest ocean water, it will work at removing this excess and as a result, will draw out more water from your body!

Quite the tragedy for us humans honestly, but our kidneys are just doing their jobs!

Which Birds Can Drink Saltwater? And How Does That Work?

It might be not surprising and is quite obvious but marine birds are the birds that can drink seawater. 

From penguins to seagulls, birds living near the sea are able to drink from it and not go through salt poisoning because of the incredibly efficient “second kidneys” they have right above the eye. 

A weird place for a kidney-like organ, I’m sure we all agree.

All shorebirds and seabirds have this desalinization gland right above their eyes, which performs the primary function of kidneys, which is drawing out excess salt ions that have settled into their bloodstream. 

Just like in humans, the salt they take in gets absorbed into their bloodstream but instead of traveling to the kidneys like in humans, the salt ions travel to the pair of salt glands above their eyes.

The salt glands are quite similar to kidneys, hence the name “extra kidneys”. Their functioning is equally similar as well. 

They take the salt-absorbed blood and filter it out, pumping the salt ions out and against the flow of osmosis. 

This allows them to get hydrated by the now desalinized water and the resulting filtered substance is a thick, dense, salty fluid that is secreted out through the nostrils and run-down grooves present in many marine birds.

A number of birds, both inhabiting the sea and the shore have this incredible mechanism built in so that they can deal with the hydration of their body. 

Gulls, geese, albatrosses, puffins, terns, knots, pelicans, sea ducks, loons, and penguins are some of the marine birds who possess these salt glands and can drink saltwater.

Can All Birds Drink Saltwater?

No, not all birds can drink seawater, mainly because they have no need for it. 

Only those species that call the sea and the shore their home, or spend the majority of their time inhabiting these two spaces require seawater to quench their thirst. 

But seawater is tricky, as we all know. It is not as simple as downing a big cup of it, since it can lead to even worse dehydration and eventually salt poisoning.

To avoid this dire fate, marine birds like penguins, albatrosses, gulls, loons, etc have evolved to have salt glands above their eyes, which do the work filtering and pumping out the salt ions absorbed into the blood, which achieves both the purpose of rehydrating the bird’s body as well as removing the extra salt. 

So no, not all birds have this fascinating mechanism simply because they do not need it.

Nature allots to creatures what they require to survive and thrive in their own homes, and it rarely misses the mark.

Can Swans Drink Salt Water?

Most swans inhabit water bodies with fresh water like lakes, ponds, and rivers. So what they mainly drink is freshwater as well, and quite a bit of it – they are thirsty birds. 

But interestingly enough, they do have salt glands located just behind the skin and above their eyes, which act as a desalination filter and filter out salt ions. 

This means that they technically can drink salt water as the salt would simply but wonderfully get concentrated into a thick, dense, salty liquid which then passes out through their nostrils, and the salt is removed!

Do Flamingos Drink Salt Water?

Yes! Flamingos are wonderfully absurd birds with a list of incredibly fascinating things they can do – including drinking salt water. 

What allows them to do so is the same desalinization mechanism, which pumps out the salt ions from the blood and concentrates into a thick dense fluid which is then removed through the nostrils. 

Flamingos are also true, undying fans of water – and don’t really care about type or temperature.

People have been appalled to see flamingos happily dunk their deep into the extremely salty ocean water or more fascinatingly hot boiling water. 

They don’t really care if the water in front of them is loaded to the brim with salt and bubbling over because of its heat, they are going for it nonetheless, now that is true dedication.

In Conclusion

So that was yet another incredibly efficient mechanism hidden behind the bodies of birds, another feat of nature to add to the ever-growing list. 

We hope you learned something new today and we also implore you to keep an eye out the next time you’re at sea, for tiny drops of thick liquid being shaken off by marine birds, and watch the result of this hidden mechanism in its full glory!

Thank you for reading!

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