Jul 09 2010
If you have a bird bath in your yard I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot more activity there during these long, hot days.
Tuesday evening my bird bath was so popular that nine birds lined up waiting to drink and bathe while a robin monopolized the water. The group included mourning doves, starlings, song sparrows and of course, the robin.
When the robin finally gave way, it was fascinating to watch everyone drink. All of the birds except the doves put their beaks in the water then turned their faces to the sky just like the blue-winged goose pictured at left.
The doves were different. They put their beaks in my bird bath and sucked up the water like the pigeon shown at right.
Why do they drink so differently?
The answer is complex and depends upon the species. It’s partly related to their anatomy (#4) and partly style. Birds have at least five different ways of drinking:
- Sip and Tilt: Most birds use this method (and the next one) to collect water in their beaks. Then they turn their heads up to send the water to the back of their throats.
- Suck and Tilt: Looks a lot like the first method but is quicker because they collect a lot more water by actively sucking it up.
- Sucking without raising their heads: This is the method favored by Columbiformes (doves and pigeons) and helps identify birds as members of this order.
- Tongue drinking: Birds who sip nectar are experts at this method because their tongues are specially formed for their favorite food. Watch hummingbirds and nectar eaters, such as lorikeets, and you’ll see them use their tongues to drink.
- Drinking in flight: Swifts and swallows skim the water with their lower jaw, scoop up the water and swallow.
So there are many ways that birds drink, maybe even more than I’ve listed here.
Next time you quaff a cold beverage, think about which method you’re using.