This desert bird stashes water in its feathers

April 7, 2016, 8 a.m.
Namaqua Sandgrouse
Photo: EcoPrint/Shutterstock

When you live in the desert, you have to be creative about obtaining and transporting water. This is particularly important when you have a freshly hatched brood of chicks that need water to survive and can't travel to the watering hole. The sandgrouse, found in arid parts of southwest Africa, carries water from the watering hole to its chicks within its belly feathers.

Audubon writes:

In the cool of the desert morning, the male flies up to 20 miles to a shallow water hole, then wades in up to his belly. The water is collected by “rocking.” The bird shifts its body side to side and repeatedly shakes the belly feathers in the water; fill-up can take as long as fifteen minutes. Thanks to coiled hairlike extensions on the feathers of the underparts, a sandgrouse can soak up and transport 25 milliliters of liquid. That’s close to two tablespoons.

The sandgrouse carries it back to the chicks, and the young birds drink from these damp belly feathers. Both males and females engage in the practice, but males do it more often. A clever and live-saving strategy!

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.