Science Behind the Photo #23

Andrew Purcell

White Stork  (Ciconia ciconia)

You may be aware of species, such as kangaroos for instance, which use saliva to cool their bodies in the same way that humans and other primates use sweat. However, did you also know that some animals use their excrement for this purpose? This process is known as urohidrosis and is common among seals, vultures and storks, such as the one shown in the photo above.

White storks direct their faeces and urine onto their own legs, making them appear white. When this subsequently evaporates, it provides a cooling mechanism analogous to that provided to us by sweat.

Unfortunately, this behaviour can pose problems for conservationists. Birds that have been ringed can sometimes be affected by the accumulation of droppings around the ring leading to constriction and leg trauma.

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You can learn more about stork behaviour by visiting a webcam that was recently set up in the town of Ebermannstadt (Germany) to let you view this stork’s nest:

http://www.stadtwerke-ebermannstadt.de/ebermannstadt/webcam/storchennest.html

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