Given that we’re supposed to be hitting the high twenties in Centigrade this week, and it felt particularly humid when I opened the doors and windows today, I thought I’d put a few tips on the blog about how to help birds and other wildlife during particularly warm spells.
I took this photo of a Dunnock through my window an hour or two ago. I saw Collared Doves on the fence adopting similar positions earlier this morning. They were spreading their feathers and panting.
Birds don’t have sweat glands like us, so they use other behavioural adaptations to keep cool such as (taken with thanks directly from the about birds website):
- Panting: Just like dogs, wild birds will open their bills and pant to help dissipate heat on a hot day. As they get hotter, their panting may increase in speed or they may open their bills even further for greater cooling.
- Activity Level: Birds will adapt their daily activities to suit the climate. On a very hot day or in warmer climates, birds are less active during the hottest hours and more active when the sun is lower and the air cooler.
- Seeking Shade: More birds can be found in shady areas during the hottest times of the year, particularly near water sources and low to the ground. The more layers of branches and leaves above the ground, the more heat will be absorbed and the cooler the shade will be.
- Soaring: Birds of prey often soar at higher altitudes on the hottest days. While this does not get them out of the sun, the air temperatures are much colder at great altitude, which keeps the bird cooler.
- Bathing: Many backyard birds and songbird species will bathe in hot weather to cool their bodies with water. They may simple walk through the water or shake it over their bodies with head twists and wing flutters. Waterfowl will frequently dive beneath the surface to get thoroughly wet in the heat.
- Spreading Feathers: When a cool breeze provides some relief from the heat, birds may puff out their feathers or flutter their wings to let the circulating air reach their hot skin. They may also hold their wings away from their bodies to lower their body temperature.
- Less Solar Radiation: Birds with lighter colored plumage may turn their lightest parts toward the sun on a hot day so more heat is reflected away from their bodies.
- Breeding Range: Many birds migrate with relation to their preferred climates, and when the weather is warming up they will seek cooler locations at northern latitudes. Similarly, birds in mountainous regions may head for higher, cooler altitudes, while birds in lowlands retreat into deeper shady, sheltered areas.
How to help
The main thing you can do is to provide a bird bath filled with clean, fresh water for birds to drink and bathe. A 4-5 cm basin is best to accommodate small bathing birds. On the hottest days like today, shallow water may evaporate quickly, so check your bath regularly to keep it filled. Clean fresh water will also help creatures like hedgehogs.
Adding some plants to provide shade in the garden can also help. Also by providing good food, you can minimise efforts required by birds to obtain their nutritional requirements thereby reducing activities and helping to keep them cooler.