"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry." ~Thomas Fuller
It seems much of the US is experiencing some pretty steamy temperatures out there right now. Have you ever wondered if the heat affects birds like it affects humans? And if it does, what do they do to stay cool since they can't hang out in the frozen food section of the local grocery store?
The answer to those questions are a bit complicated. Birds, like all mammals, can be affected by temperature extremes - but birds have a naturally higher body temperature than many other creatures. Of course, optimal temperatures range across the different species of birds, but the average bird body temperature is 105 degrees. (I wonder how they get birds to hold that thermometer under their tongues to discover this??) And remember, many birds migrate to their preferred temperature ranges so while the temperatures may seem extreme to us it certainly isn't as hot as where they came from for the summer! But what do they do when it does start to feel a little hot? One of the ways birds can cool down is to take a little dip, whether it be in a stream like this Northern Cardinal, or your friendly, local birdbath. Wet feathers reduce their body temperature. If you are kind enough to provide a bird bath for our feathered friends, make sure you change out the water frequently (I change mine twice a day, but they gets lots of use). Stagnant water quickly breeds algae and can also play host to mosquito larvae! Even if you don't have a "formal" bird bath, a plant saucer or even an upside down garbage can lid can provide a welcome source of water for our feathered friends on these extra hot days. Of course, birds have other ways of adapting to the heat. They will seek shade and become less active during the hottest hours of the day. You might also see them opening their bills and panting, fluffing out their feathers when a breeze hits to let the air reach their hot skin, and even holding their wings away from their bodies. And now...perhaps a bit of TMI (Too Much Information)...some birds (like Vultures) employ a technique called Urohydrosis to keep cool. "Gosh, Leigh, what in the world is that?" you might ask. Well, these birds will urinate on their bare legs to take advantage of evaporative cooling. And, as an added bonus, the white reside from their urine (and feces) reflects the sunlight which also helps them stay cooler. Aren't you glad you asked? 🙂 Have you noticed any strange behaviors from birds during this extreme heat? Please let us know in the comments below! Northern Cardinal Middlesex County, MA