Did you know that ...

... birds have an in-built air-conditioning system?

Many bird species have a specific type of beak, be it short, long, slim, flat or pointed. Researchers in the US have now discovered that some of them even boast an in-built air-conditioning system. The discovery came to light when the tiny structures in the nasal cavities of song sparrows were examined. These structures cool the airflow during breathing and create moisture in dry climates.

While studies conducted until now have looked at the effect of a beak’s size and shape on regulating body temperature, they have neglected to examine their inner structures almost entirely. This prompted the scientists to take a closer look at the nasal conchae, small bone structures that regulate the air that is breathed in. The team led by Raymond Danner, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, used a 3D X-ray microscope together with a ZEISS Xradia Versa to image the conchae of two North American song sparrow subspecies. One subspecies lives in a dry environment, and the other in humid surroundings.

By assessing the detailed images, the researchers discovered that the conchae of the birds living in dry environs have a larger surface area; this means more water condenses when they exhale, and the birds retain moisture. The airflow also cools more quickly while they breathe. Thanks to these studies, the researchers have been able to prove, for the first time, that nasal cavities can vary greatly within a single bird species if the birds live in different environments – and the cavities can function as an air-conditioning system, too.

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