How do birds drink?

Birds need water to survive. This includes ocean birds that are flying far out over the ocean, like gulls, petrels, and albatross. They may be far from shore for months or even years at a time, never seeing lakes or other sources of fresh water. How do they survive?

Most seabirds simply drink the ocean’s saltwater. They could not do this without the help of their special glands called Salt Glands. The salt gland is an area of their nostrils that filters extra salt from the bloodstream. This salt is then sneezed out, or it dribbles out from the birds’ nostrils.

And there is plenty of salt to filter out- seawater is 3% salt, but birds need their bodies to be 1% salt in order to survive. These salt glands are constantly at work.

In some birds species like albatross and petrels, these glands look like big tubes sitting on top of the bill. This is why these ocean birds are sometimes called “tubenoses”.

Many kinds of birds have this gland, but it is only fully developed in seabirds. Interestingly, when scientists have fed young freshwater ducks large amounts of saltwater, these birds develop larger, more functioning salt glands as they grow into adults.