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Birds and mammals are on extreme ends of the airflow spectrum. Mammals inhale oxygen-rich air that funnels into smaller branches, ending in tiny sacs where oxygen enters and carbon dioxide leaves the bloodstream. When mammals exhale, the depleted air follows the same route out of the body, exhibiting a so-called tidal flow pattern. In contrast, bird breath travels tidally through part of the respiratory system, but in a one-way loop throughout most of the lung. Thanks to a unique design with aerodynamic valves, air always moves toward the head through many tiny tubes in birds—during both inhalation and exhalation. Scientists…

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