how to help wild birds in hot weather

Do you ever wonder how birds stay cool on hot summer days? We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to share some insights! Like people, birds can withstand changes in the weather and maintain their body temperature whether it’s hot or cold outside, but there are limits. When summer temperatures are on the rise, birds depend on adaptations to keep from overheating.

Many adaptations are different variations of thermoregulation, the mechanism that warm-blooded animals use to balance their body temperature with their surroundings. Thermoregulation is a process where warmer blood cools and then circulates throughout the body, lowering the animal’s overall body temperature. It can take many forms and is a window into understanding how our physical world works. To understand how birds have adapted these cooling techniques, we need a quick overview of how thermal energy – or heat – moves from one thing to another. Simply put, heat moves in one direction, from hot toward cold. The movement of heat happens on a molecular level in all matter, whether it’s solid, liquid or gas. It’s within this principle that birds are able to transfer their body temperature to cooler air and water around them.

Dogs aren’t the only ones panting

Although they can’t actually pant like dogs can, birds can still pant in their own unique ways, and some even go so far as to flutter. Known more formally as “gular fluttering,” this behavior is typical of nocturnal insectivores such as whip-poor-wills and common nighthawks. Fluttering is the result of rapid, open-mouth breathing combined with rapid vibration of the wet throat membranes, which evaporatively causes moisture to escape. With each exhale, the bird releases extra heat from its body, allowing it to cool. During the hottest parts of the day, mourning doves, owls, and double-crested cormorants may also exhibit this behavior.

This is a dangerous trend for birds. According to Audubon’s 2019 Survival by Degrees report, as global temperatures rise, many of the continent’s bird species face extinction because their former ranges are becoming uninhabitable. Droughts and extreme heat waves will probably “cause large amounts of mortality” and “add another stressor to bird populations,” according to University of New Mexico ornithologist Blair Wolf. “They die of heatstroke if it’s extremely hot because they can’t evaporate enough water to stay cool.” They become dehydrated and may even perish from dehydration if it is hot and there is no water. ”.

Birds not only swim and pant to combat the heat, but they also avoid it. Many species will choose to seek cover in cooler, shadier areas during the hottest parts of the day rather than continue foraging. Birds can find shaded spots in your garden by using native trees, shrubs, and ground cover. Create a varied garden.

Native plants are essential for assisting entire ecosystems, including birds, in adapting to rising temperatures, even though any tree can provide shade. Since they can withstand the extremes of a given area, species that have adapted to it are better able to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem.

Heat waves usually occur in the breeding season, when caterpillars from butterflies and moths are the primary source of food for 96% of native bird species in North America. Cultivating native plants will help those birds feed their young when the temperature rises.

In addition to bearing an abundance of seeds, berries, and fruit, native plants also serve as a home for insects, which are a valuable source of food during periods of intense heat.

Taking a dip in the water

Birds stay cool by bathing or swimming, just like humans do. Who doesn’t enjoy cooling off in a lake or river on a hot day? Birds can dissipate their body heat to the cooler water surrounding them by submerging their exposed skin. After a bath, some birds spread their wings and fluff up their feathers to catch the breeze, which helps them cool off even more.


How do you help a bird in heat?

Offer Water. Wolf, who has been studying avian responses to extreme heat for over two decades, says that water and shade are the two most important things an individual can provide to help birds stay cool. That’s because both are essential for the strategies birds use to avoid overheating.

What temp is too hot for a bird?

Usually the ambient temperature is lower than the bird’s body temperature, and the bird’s metabolism produces heat to keep warm. But when the outside air rises above about 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) the bird’s metabolic heat will cause it to get too warm. So the bird needs to cool down.

What helps birds cool themselves when they get too hot?

Birds keep cool by taking a bath or going swimming just like we do. Submerging exposed skin helps birds to dissipate their body heat to the cooler water around them. Some birds fluff up their feathers after a bath and open up their wings to catch a breeze, helping them cool off even more.

How do you save a bird from heat exhaustion?

Stand him on a damp towel or in a shallow dish of tepid or tap water – not cooled water. Lightly mist with the same type of water – again not cooled water – lift the wings to get water against the skin. A bird in heat distress will pant, and stand with his legs slightly spread and his wings drooped.