Science features Ortega-Jiménez research about flamingo fluid mechanics

Science featured research led by Victor Ortega-Jiménez, assistant professor of integrative avian biology and biomechanics, showing that flamingos use fluid mechanics to filter food out of 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 stir the water into swirling vortices to pull food within reach; stick their beaks below the surface and “chatter” their mouths open and closed, darting their tongues in and out to create suction; and abruptly lift their heads, causing a swirling “tornado,” as Ortega-Jiménez told Science, that sucks food upward toward their mouths. Finally, as the birds walk forward, they skim the water’s surface with their bills facing backward, creating swirls of water that concentrate food right at the tip of the beak to swallow.