Science presented research led by Victor Ortega-Jiménez, assistant professor of integrative avian biology and biomechanics, showing that flamingos use fluid mechanics to filter food from muddy waters. Ortega-Jiménez and colleagues from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Kennesaw State University analyzed the wading and feeding behaviors of Chilean flamingos at the Nashville Zoo and tested their ideas with 3D-printed models of flamingo heads. . They found the birds toss the water around in swirling whirlpools to pull food within reach; stick their beaks below the surface and “chatter” their mouths open and closed, moving their tongues in and out to create suction; and jerk their heads up, causing a swirling “tornado”, as Ortega-Jiménez told Science, that sucks food into their mouths. Finally, as the birds move forward, they skim the surface of the water with their beaks facing backwards, creating whirlpools of water that concentrate food just at the tip of the beak to be swallowed.

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