How Birds Lungs Differ From Mammalian Lungs

Larry2 had this observation,

I didn’t realize the “birds” could operate higher then the people.

So I did some research.

Avian lungs do not have alveoli as mammalian lungs do, they have Faveolar lungs. They contain millions of tiny passages known as para-bronchi, connected at both ends by the dorsobronchi. The airflow through the avian lung always travels in the same direction – posterior to anterior. This is in contrast to the mammalian system, in which the direction of airflow in the lung is tidal, reversing between inhalation and exhalation. By utilizing a unidirectional flow of air, avian lungs are able to extract a greater concentration of oxygen from inhaled air. Birds are thus equipped to fly at altitudes at which mammals would succumb to hypoxia. This also allows them to sustain a higher metabolic rate than an equivalent weight mammal.

The lungs of birds are relatively small, but are connected to 8-9 air sacs that extend through much of the body, and are in turn connected to air spaces within the bones. The air sacs are smooth-walled, and do not themselves contribute much to respiration, but they do help to maintain the airflow through the lungs as air is forced through them by the movement of the ribs and flight muscles.

Because of the complexity of the system, misunderstanding is common and it is incorrectly believed that it takes two breathing cycles for air to pass entirely through a bird’s respiratory system. A bird’s lungs do not store air in either of the sacs between respiration cycles, air moves continuously from the posterior to anterior air sacs throughout respiration. This type of lung construction is called a circulatory lung, as distinct from the bellows lung possessed by other animals.

So then I looked at how high can birds fly.

An aircraft over the Côte d’Ivoire collided with a Rüppell’s Vulture at the astonishing altitude of 11,300 m (37,073 ft), the current record avian height.

To put that in perspective that’s over seven miles up, higher than mount Everest, which is 29,029 ft high.

So now you know. Moose actually does research. 😀

Here’s a fancy animation showing how this works.


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