• Video contributions from authors of Science papers

Shorebird Feeding: The Capillary Ratchet

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Some shorebirds, such as the red-necked phalarope, feed by rapidly pecking at the water surface to take tiny, prey-containing droplets, which they then draw up toward the mouth through a high-speed "tweezering" motion of the beak (first half of movie). Using a mechanical beak model, Prakash et al. showed how the tweezering works -- through a "capillary ratchet" mechanism that, relying on the drop's surface tension, drives the food up with each movement (second half of movie). The mechanism's fine tuning to the beak's wetting properties suggests that these shorebirds may be particularly vulnerable to certain kinds of nearshore pollution, such as detergents and oil spills.

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