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Which bird produces milk?

People only think that they know everything about nature. Have you ever heard about bird's milk? Any idea about what bird gives milk to its young? Read the article to learn more.

milk of a bird
Like mammals, the young of some birds are fed on special secretions from a parent which is called a bird milk. Unlike mammals, however, both sexes produce it.

READ ALSO: What can we learn from eagles?

The milk of a bird

The best known of the bird milk is the "crop milk" that pigeons feed to squabs. The bird milk is produced by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop, a thin-walled, sac-like food-storage chamber that projects outward from the bottom of the esophagus. Crops are presumably a device for permitting birds to gather and store food rapidly, minimizing the time that they are exposed to predators. Crops tend to be especially well developed in pigeons and game birds.

milk of a bird

What birds give milk?

Bird milk is extremely nutritious. In one study, domestic chicks given feed containing pigeon crop milk were 16 percent heavier at the end of the experiment than chicks that did not receive the supplement. The pigeon milk, which contains more protein and fat than does cow or human milk, is the exclusive food of the nestlings for several days after hatching, and both adults feed it to the squabs for more than two weeks. The young pigeons are not fed insects as are the chicks of many seed-eating birds; instead, the crop milk provides the critical ration of protein.

milk of a bird

The milk of Greater Flamingos contains much more fat and much less protein than does pigeon milk, and its production is not localized in a crop but involves glands lining the entire upper digestive tract. Interestingly, the milk contains an abundance of red and white blood cells, which can be seen under the microscope migrating like amoebas through the surface of the glands. Young flamingos feed exclusively on bird milk for about two months, while the special filter-feeding apparatus that they will later employ for foraging develops.

milk of a bird

Emperor Penguin chicks may also be fed with bird milk in some circumstances. Each male incubates a single egg on his feet, covered with a fold of abdominal skin, for two months of the Antarctic winter, fasting while the female is out at sea feeding. If the female has not returned with food by the time the chick hatches, the male feeds it for a few days on milk secreted by the esophagus. After its brief diet of a bird milk, the chick will be fed by regurgitation alternately by the male and female as they travel one at a time to the sea to hunt.

milk of a bird

Why bird gives milk to its young?

Thus, three very different groups of birds have evolved the capacity to produce bird milk as solutions to very different problems.

The first is the need for protein and fat in the pigeons, which feed very little animal material to the squabs.

The second is the need for liquid food consumption during the development of the specialized feeding apparatus of the flamingos (which would make any other form of food difficult for the chicks to ingest).

The third is the need for a convenient food supplement when breeding on the barren Antarctic ice shelf favored by penguins.

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