16 February 2009
Cormorants drying their wings in the sun are a common sight along many rivers and coasts around the world. Although they feed underwater, they have partially wettable feathers. Science writer and broadcaster Sue Nelson finds out why.
Cormorant expert Professor Pat Butler from the University of Birmingham takes Sue to see the see-through water tank he's had specially built to study cormorants. The birds have been trained to dive down to feed on fish at the bottom of the tank.
Since their feathers are partially wettable, they soon get waterlogged. This cools the birds down. To stay warm, they need to generate more energy. In doing this, they use oxygen.
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After the cormorants have fed and emerged from the tank, Pat measures their oxygen consumption. By cooling the water down, Pat can see if they use more oxygen.
It turns out the relationship between water temperature, the amount of oxygen they're using and how much exercise they're getting isn't as straightforward as you might at first imagine.
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