The air in the respiratory system of diving birds contains a large proportion of the body oxygen stores, but it must be in the lungs for gas exchange with blood to occur. To test the hypothesis that locomotion induces mixing of air sac air with lung air during dives, we measured differential pressures between the interclavicular and posterior thoracic air sacs in five diving tufted ducks Aythya fuligula. The peak differential pressure between posterior thoracic and interclavicular air sacs, 0.49+/-0.13 kPa (mean +/- s.d.), varied substantially during underwater paddling as indicated by gastrocnemius muscle activity. These data support the hypothesis that locomotion, perhaps through associated abdominal muscle activity, intermittently compresses the posterior air sacs more than the anterior ones. The result is differential pressure fluctuations that might induce the movement of air between air sacs and through the lungs during dives.

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