Sandgrouse Kids Drive Dads to Drink

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Sandgrouse Kids Drive Dads to Drink

A Burchell's sandgrouse wets its feathers to carry water to its chicks to drink.

© Nigel J. Dennis; Gallo Images/Corbis

When we talk about weird things animals do, it's tempting to just point out the more blatantly bizarre, like the mothers who eat their young or the fish who only keep offspring from attractive partners. (Don't worry, they're coming up in our list.) But we shouldn't forget that animals do lots of strange things for their children that, in reality, are borderline-heroic.

Consider the sandgrouse. A resident of southern Africa's arid zones, this pretty little bird often has to travel miles at a time for water. What to do when you have a nest full of babies who aren't ready to fly?

The male sandgrouse to the rescue! Although he incubates the babies at night when mom seeks food, in the day he's free to travel to watering holes. He proceeds to wade in and get a good soak. His special, coiled feathers uncurl and trap water through capillary action. When he flies back to the nest, the little ones nestle up to his belly and get their gulps of water in for the day from his wet feathers [source: Lloyd]. Dad quickly takes a dust bath to rid himself of the strong scent of wet feathers that could attract hungry prey.

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