On a hot summer's day, it’s easy for people to retreat to cool air conditioned buildings in order to avoid the heat. Wild birds don’t have the luxury of AC, so how do they keep cool?
Birds do not have sweat glands like humans do. As a result, they have a number of different physical modifications that help them stay cool. Birds naturally operate at a body temperature that is higher than most animals (40 degrees celsius) which means that they don’t feel the warmth as badly as we do with our lower body temperatures (37 degrees celsius). They also have rapid respiration rates, which allows for heat to be carried out of the body through the lungs.
Birds have bare skin patches on their legs, face and feet for even more heat loss compared to if these areas were covered with feathers. Some birds can even make their bare patches swell in order to increase its surface area which helps them cool off even faster!
Birds have quite a few different strategies to beat the heat. Often mistaken for panting, gular fluttering is a common technique that birds employ to stay cool. It involves the bird opening its mouth and “fluttering” its neck muscles in order to promote heat loss. Another method some birds use is opening up their wings and spreading their feathers. This allows for circulating air to reach their hot skin and lower their body temperature. Some birds, mainly vultures, will urinate on their legs to capitalize on evaporative cooling. This action is called urohidrosis. High temperatures call for desperate measures!
How to Help
While birds have many ways of regulating their temperature, bird lovers can also help their feathered friends stay cool. Birds like to splash around in shallow water, just like we do! Preparing a birdbath that has 1 to 2 inches of clean, fresh water is a great way of providing birds with a safe space to cool their heels and get a drink. Shade is also very important and temperatures can be much more cooler under bushes and trees. Planting native tree and shrub species can provide shade and shelter from the sun and can also function as a natural food source for backyard birds.
Birds have many ways to keep cool even on the warmest days. Bird enthusiasts who understand how birds regulate their temperatures will have an easier time spotting birds on hot summer days and will be able to provide a more befitting backyard habitat that can attract birds all summer long.