Nature Nugget – Pelagic Tubenoses

Tubenoses are a group of marine birds that spend the majority of their lives at sea, only coming to land to nest. Members of this group include the well known albatrosses and the lesser known shearwaters and petrels.

The name tubenose is derived from the presence of tubular nostrils running along the top of their bills. Their kidneys alone cannot filter out all the salt in the diet of these birds, so a pair of glands near the nasal passages in the front of the head helps secrete excess salt that would otherwise poison the system. The duct from each of the salt glands carries the salt solution into the nasal cavity where it is then discharged through the tubular nostrils where it drips off the tip of the bird’s bill. The system works only when excess salts accumulate, such as after feeding or drinking. The ability to drink seawater is a very important adaptation for being a sea bird. So adapted are they to their environment that they require salt water and will die of thirst when only fresh water is available.

Among the few birds with an acute sense of smell, tubenoses are attracted to oily scents from as far away as 30 km (19 miles). Tubenoses prey on marine animals with the larger species feeding on fish and squids and the smaller species on plankton. Most are scavengers and will commonly follow marine mammals, schools of large predatory fish, and even ships, feeding on scraps and refuse generated by their feeding and fishing activities.

Albatrosses and shearwaters have extremely long narrow wings. Their type of flight requires continuous winds. These winds, which do not carry them very high, give them enough lift over the waves to make a long wind-pushed glide until they descend to wave level, where they then turn into the wind and are again lifted like a kite for the next glide. Albatrosses, which have the longest wingspan of any bird, are the greatest gliders and can fly for hours without flapping their wings. The Wandering Albatross is the champion, with a wingspan of up to 12 feet.

Compared to albatrosses, shearwaters appear energetic, rapidly flapping and gliding over the sea, usually close to the surface. Shearwaters get their name because their pointed wings appear to slice the sea as they skim through troughs between ocean waves.

Ornithologists estimate that petrels are probably the most numerous birds in the world. Their flight is very energetic also, with rapid flapping followed by short glides. The Storm-Petrels appear to walk on water, as they tend to have their webbed feet extended downward to the water’s surface while picking small marine organisms from the surface during flight.

Just as the Lord has provided a way for the tubenoses to rid their bodies of the excess salts which would be toxic to them if not eliminated, so has He provided a way for us to rid our lives of sin which is toxic to us. “For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. Praise God for the gift of His son!