Skunk gulls, feathered feet & birds with airbags

Arctic Birds

I sent my husband the second draft of the novelette I’m working on and he had some questions about what the characters’ wings looked like and I, uh, I didn’t know, so I had to do some research about what’s normal for arctic birds.

Fun Facts

  • Ravens, puffins, gulls, redpolls, gyrfalcons, snowy owls, and ptarmigans live in the arctic regions year-round despite the bitter cold.
  • Arctic terns migrate from Antarctica to the Arctic every summer to breed, then migrate back to Antarctica overwinter.
  • Kittiwakes are the only gull-like birds to nest on the sides of cliffs, where their chicks are safe from predators.
  • Birds, like humans, shiver to generate warmth when they’re cold.
  • Ptarmigans have the cutest little feathered feet, it looks like they’re wearing little boots, I love them so much.

Snowed Under

One of the most effective ways of staying warm in winter in the arctic is to literally curl up in a little ball and get covered with snow. Some birds, like ptarmigans, dig burrows in the snow to keep warm. Depending on the depth of the snow, the air between the ground and the snow can hover right around freezing. [Read More]

Bags on Board

Northern gannets have little bags of air under their skin. This not only helps them resurface quickly after diving underwater, it helps cushion their impact when diving. They have sebaceous glands (like the ones that cause acne in humans) that lets them waterproof their feathers. [Read More]

Freezing Feet

Birds that stand in icy-cold water manage not to freeze to death because the arterial blood in the feet has already cooled off during its downward travel — by warming the upward-traveling blood in the veins! Some have a "countercurrent heat exchanger" in their upper leg, which helps them maintain a safe core body temperature. [Check out these helpful diagrams]

Foul Gull

Fulmar gulls have strong-smelling stomach oil that they can use in a variety of ways. Not only can they excrete the pungent spray like a skunk to ward off predators, their young can eat it for quick energy. They can also metabolize it during long flights for extra energy when needed. [Read More]


If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about life in adverse environments.

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