Toucan's Beak Really Outsized Thermostat

Toucans control blood flow to outsized bill to raise or lower body temperature
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2009 3:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – New research reveals an unexpected use for the toucan’s outsized bill, Wired reports. Thermal imaging shows that the bird can regulate its body temperature by increasing or restricting blood flow to its beak. “Bird bills are not ‘dead tissues’ incapable of playing a role in heat balance,” a researcher says. “Birds do not sweat, so must cope with other mechanisms to deal with elevated temperatures.”

The toucan can raise or lower its core temperature 18 degrees F in just minutes using its bill, which can account for between 5 and 100% of total heat loss. “I am not aware of another example of this sort in birds,” a biologist says. “This is a fascinating study that shows how bird beaks, in addition to their already multiple important functions, can perform rather unexpected roles.”