How Do Birds Stay Cool?
When temperatures rise, and birds get hot, they pant just like dogs do to release heat. They also find shady areas and spread their feathers or move their wings to create a circulation of air near their skin. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, read on for all you need to know about how birds stay cool.
Unlike us, birds don’t have sweat glands but they do have a few natural ways to cool off when the temperature gets uncomfortable. They include:
- Featherless Skin
Any areas of bare skin for instance, on the face, the feet or the legs will let heat escape from the body much faster than areas covered in feathers or down. Even the smallest areas like the area around the eyes can help to release heat.
- Breathing Rate
Birds have a fast respiration rate,that helps to remove heat from their bodies. They can also pant like dogs, and just opening their beak helps.
- The Size Of The Bill
Some tropical birds who live in hot conditions for much of the year, have developed larger bills over the centuries. When the temperature becomes too hot they can increase their blood flow through their bills to help dissipate heat. Once the temperature reduces, they slow their blood flow and regulate their body temperatures.
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Other Ways Birds Keep Cool
Birds have found other ways to keep cool much like any of us do when the temperature rises. Some of the ways birds choose to cool down are:
- Finding Shade
On really hot days, you often notice there is a distinct absence of birds. This is because they are hiding from the sun, in the shade. Often low to the ground and near water. The higher the tree canopy is, the more heat from the sun is absorbed and the cooler it will feel at the lower levels.
- Changing Their Daily Routine
Instead of spending all day collecting enough food, during hot periods birds will start foraging for food as soon as possible in the morning. They will then seek shade during the hottest part of the day and then continue their activities once the sun is lower in the sky.
- Reaching Higher Altitudes
A practise mainly used by birds of prey, birds climb to a high altitude and then dive, and soar, as they are higher the air temperature is cooler the higher they go.
- Feather Spreading
If they can catch a breeze, birds will spread their feathers and flap their wings to allow the air that is circulating cool their skin. Birds can often be seen with their wings slightly away from their bodies in an effort to cool down.
- Water Bathing
Many garden birds will utilise bird baths or even garden ponds. They will sometimes just stand in the water to cool off, or they will throw water over their heads and backs. Ducks and other waterfowl will often dive underwater just to cool off.
- Using Their Own Urine
A practise known as urohydrosis, mainly used by vultures, they will urinate over their own legs and take advantage of the liquid evaporating to cool down. As the residue dries white this also helps to reflect the heat from the sun.
- Using Lighter Plumage
Many birds have lighter coloured plumage on their undersides. When it gets too hot and sunny they will turn these parts towards the sun so as to reflect heat from their bodies.
- Move To Cooler Climes
Birds who live in Northern parts of the country will often fly further North in hot weather until they find somewhere more favourable to roost. Birds that already live in cooler mountainous regions will fly higher into the mountains until it cools down again.
What Can We Do To Help Cool Down Our Garden Visitors?
There are a few things we can do to help our feathered friends keep cool during hot spells, these include:
- Provide A Birdbath For The Birds
If you want birds to visit your garden on a regular basis, you should provide them with a bird bath. It doesn’t need to be too elaborate, just a shallow bowl placed somewhere safe – Where predators cannot hide. Be sure to wash the bird bath out regularly and keep it topped up with fresh, clean water. Once you start with a birdbath you must continue everyday, Summer and Winter, birds can often find food but freshwater for drinking, bathing and keeping cool can often be in short supply. They will soon get used to visiting your bird bath so remember to keep it going.
- Provide A Mister
By adding a mister or even just a simple drip system, you will be advertising your freshwater feature to any and all passing birds. Some birds prefer running water to still baths so you could notice rarer or different birds begin to visit your garden.
- Consider Ventilated Bird Boxes
If you have bird boxes in your garden they need to have adequate ventilation. Just drill a few holes below the roof in what would be the eaves on a house. This will allow air to circulate. Hatchlings and nestlings have poor temperature control, so it is vitally important to allow cooler air into the box. Also consider painting the birdbox a colour that will reflect heat, or place bird boxes in shady areas.
- Provide Nutritious Food
Be sure to give the birds a well mixed, balanced diet to prevent them having to fly long distances to find nutritious food supplies. This is just as important in summer as it is in Winter time. During the hot Summer months, birds have a lot of extra activities especially during breeding season without the added and unnecessary extra flights to find decent food supplies. In Winter birds expend enough of their energy just by keeping warm without having to fly a long way to find food. They will often nest close to food sources so be sure to feed them regularly and keep the feeders clean to avoid any infections. During hot Summers avoid feeding suet based foods as these can quickly go bad in the heat.
- Create Some Shade
Try planting some fairly high or bushy plants in your garden to provide the birds the chance to shade from the sun when it gets too hot. If you have a cat, either put a bell on it’s collar or buy a collar with the special U/V paint so birds can spot the danger quickly. Consider adding bushes that provide berries and try to mix the varieties to provide food for various types of birds.
How Hot Are Birds?
The average temperature of a garden bird is 40 C (105 F) compared to a human beings average temperature of 37 C (99 F). But on days when the temperature soars their temperatures can rise just the same as ours can, so we need to help our feathered friends to keep cool. If you don’t own a bird bath it’s very easy to create a shallow water pool to help birds rehydrate and bathe to cool down.
Making A Simple Bird Bath
Birds appreciate a source of freshwater any time of year, but in the Summertime it’s essential that birds can rehydrate and bathe to cool off and clean their feathers. To make a simple homemade bird bath you will need:
- A Shallow dish or bowl Around 4 Inches (10 cm) Deep And 12 Inches (30 cm) In Diameter.(Or Upturned Dustbin Lid etc)
- Gravel Or Some Stones
- Bricks Or Wood (to level the container)
How To Make A Bird Bath
- Place The Bowl On Level Ground In An Open Part Of The Garden
It’s important to be sure the bowl or container is level to hold water without it spilling out and emptying the container. Make sure the bowl has ample free ground around it so birds can see any predators and make their escape safely.
- If The Ground Isn’t Level Adjust With Bricks
Place 4 bricks or wooden blocks on the ground to form a square shape, and place the container on top, if you’re using a dustbin lid you might have to adjust the bricks to get the positioning right. Keep on adjusting the bowl to be sure it’s flat and on solid ground. Be sure the bowl won’t slip, or move once it has been filled with water. Adjust bricks or pieces of wood to help get the container level.
- Fill the bottom With Gravel
Concentrate on filling the middle of the container working on the shape of a dustbin lid, it will be deeper in the middle than around the edges.
- Fill with water
Be sure the overall depth isn’t more than around 4 inches (10 cm)
- Add Any Rocks
Placing a rock at the edge can make a perch for birds to sit on, but is not necessary; it just looks good and can be helpful for the birds. Depending on the size of container used, there might not be room for a rock.
- Sit Back And Watch
During spells of really hot weather, your bird bath might need refilling during the day. In Winter, if the bird bath freezes, defrost with warm water. Never use de-icer or salt to defrost the bird bath. The chemicals in de-icer are poisonous to birds, and birds cannot process salt, it can kill them.
You should get many garden birds visiting your bird bath depending on which part of the country you live in you might see:
- Wood Pigeons
- And Many More
Try to locate your bird bath in a central position so you can see it from some distance so you don’t scare the birds by your presence. Possibly have some bushes or thick cover plants around the edge of your garden so they can escape from predators easily.
What Birds visit your bird bath? Let us know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Birds do pant to stay cool, well they have their beaks open and then flutter their neck muscles to expel heat from their bodies.
Birds do avoid heat, much like us birds will seek out shade during the hottest parts of the day.
Birds keep cool in hot weather by keeping in the shade during extreme heat, bathing in bird baths, rivers and streams, panting, opening their wings slightly to catch any breeze and cool their bodies down, and many birds of prey climb to higher altitudes to take advantage of the cooler air.