On a hot summer day, most people are looking for some water to cool off, whether that may mean a lawn sprinkler, splashing in the family pool, or a dip in a lake or ocean. Birds are no different. Like humans, birds need to release the heat built up in their bodies from the sun by submerging in water, usually by bathing or swimming. Birds use both physical and behavioral adaptations to beat the heat.
Adaptations of Birds' Bodies
Only mammals have sweat glands to cool down and regulate their body temperatures. But birds do have physical attributes that help keep them cool as well.
Unlike mammals, birds have a rapid respiration rate which helps their bodies release heat faster through regular breathing. Unlike other animals, such as a dog or cat, that visibly pant, birds are more discrete. Often, their bill is only slightly opened.
See also: How Do Birds Survive Winter?
The Beak or Bill
Different bills correspond to different types of foods consumed by the bird. It’s also interesting to note the bill’s role in keeping a bird cool. Tropical birds can increase the blood flow to their bills which in turn helps release heat. When the bird has cooled down sufficiently, the flow of blood is slowed, and heat is retained in the body once more.
The Birds' Skin
Most people don’t think of bare skin when they think of birds, but they do have patches of bare skin that is exposed to the sun. These are mainly the face, feet, and legs. This design allows more heat to release from their bodies, helping them to cool down in hot conditions. Some species of birds will have small fleshy patches they can swell to increase their surface area to cool off quicker in extreme heat conditions.
Though not all species of birds have the ability, some birds flutter their throat area when exposed to the heat. This adaptation is called Gular fluttering. It is more common with birds who are insectivores as well as nocturnal such as the Whip-Poor-Will. This flutter enables them to shed heat from the mucous membranes of the throat. The whole area is saturated with blood flow, releasing heat from their bodies.
Adaptations of Birds' Behavior
There are several behavioral adaptations that birds take to stay cool during the hotter months of the year. For one, a bird will lower its activity level during the hottest part of the day, much like humans. Birds will also seek refuge from the heat by resting in shady areas, particularly low to the ground among leaves and branches which can absorb the heat.
You might also notice birds spreading their feathers more on hot days. You might spot one fluttering its feathers to let the air get to their hot skin. Spreading feathers involves the bird holding its wings away from its body in order to lower its body temperature.
Bird Baths Are a Bird’s Best Friend
Just as your pool or lawn sprinkler can give you some relief during the hot summer months, a bird bath is a bird’s best friend.
Even with their physical and behavioral adaptations to beat the heat, birds flying over your yard will quickly find a bird bath and flock to its cooling waters. Backyard birdwatchers are offering their bird visitors a great service by having a cool respite from the heat.
No matter what type of bird bath you have, the most important thing to remember is to keep it filled with clean, fresh water. Keeping the water level at no more than two inches in depth assures the safety of even the smallest of birds looking for a quick sip or dip. Remember that on extremely hot days the water will evaporate faster. It’s a good idea to check it regularly to make sure it hasn’t dried out.
If you’re interested in adding a little extra something to your bird bath, you can look into moving water features such as misters and drippers. Moving water features attract birds to your bath with their pleasant sound as the water splashes and sparkles in the sunlight.
Help Birds Beat the Heat
Even with all their abilities to beat the heat, birds can always use a helping hand during the hot summer months. As things warm up, consider helping your feathered visitors by getting your bird bath ready. As you enjoy a shady spot in your yard, you can enjoy watching your backyard birds cool down too.