How do birds cool down when it’s hot?

Guide
Two blue tits splashing around in a bird bath

You’re hot. We’re hot. The birds are hot. While we can strip to our vests and put our feet in washing up bowls of ice-cold water (just us?), birds have a few cooler ways to cope when the temperatures rise. Here’s some of the ways they keep cool and some tips on what we can do to help them in the heat.

Two blue tits splashing around in a bird bath

They take a dip

We love a good paddling pool and many of our birds are just as keen to find cool water on a hot day. Some just paddle while others take a full-on splashy bath, like blackbirds and robins. By doing this they’re shaking the drops through their feathers which cools them down, as well as keeping them clean. Some birds seem to like a rather more relaxing affair, such as a woodpigeon we know who sits for what seems like hours in our birdbath, much to the annoyance of the sparrows.

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They Pant

When we get hot, we sweat. But birds can’t so, like dogs, a large number pant. By opening their beaks and breathing heavily, air rushes in causing the moisture in their lungs, throat and mouths to evaporate. This absorbs heat and helps keep them cool. You might’ve seen birds such as blackbirds, robins and house sparrows doing this on a hot day.

The gular flutter

It sounds like it should be an exotic dance, but the gular flutter is something a few types of birds do when the going gets hot. Cormorants and herons are among the species which can open their beaks and then “flutter” the gular muscles in their throat while breathing rapidly. This quickly carries heat out of the body and brings in cooler air. When performing the gular flutter, you can see their necks vibrating like they’re having a good old chuckle.

They head for cover

Just like many of us, birds hide away when the sun gets really strong. They look for thick areas of cover to find shade, such as hedgerows, brambles or high up within the leafy canopy of a tree. Most birds also tend to build their nests in a spot which is hidden away from any midsummer glare to try and keep their chicks as cool as possible. It is best to keep this in mind when putting up a new nest box, see our guide here

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They poo themselves

There was no nice way of putting this, but yep, some birds do poo on their pins when temperatures rise. Bird droppings are a combination of wee and poo so on a hot day the liquid evaporates on the scaly part of their legs which cools them down. The technical name for it is urohydrosis and several types of stork and some vultures do it. We’ll stick to a Cornetto and a cold flannel…

They adjust their schedule

Many birds agree a siesta is a good idea in the summer months. They choose to do their more energetic work in the cooler temperatures of dusk and dawn, leaving themselves time to hide away from the intense midday heat.

They fly higher?

There’s not a lot of evidence for this yet, but it has been suggested some birds soar at higher altitudes if the weather gets really hot. The air is certainly cooler the further you get from the ground, but the difficulty in carrying out an experiment to test it means at the moment we can’t say for sure.

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What we can do to help birds in a heatwave?

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Put out water and keep it topped up

Water is scarce in a heatwave so if you can, give the birds a much-needed drink or bath. We’ve put together a guide to bird baths and providing water for birds here.

A mini pond is also a good way of providing water in smaller gardens and can attract a lot of other wildlife too. See our guide to making a mini pond.

Keep feeding the birds

Food shortages can happen at any time. In the heat of summer, it is harder for birds such as blackbirds to find worms and other minibeasts living in the ground because it is so hard. Filling feeders can also help out parents looking for more food to feed their hungry chicks.

The trick is to put out just a little but often, because the warm weather could turn it rotten more quickly. Black sunflower seeds, soaked sultanas and a quality seed mix are good choices. Stay clear of peanuts, homemade fat balls and bread as these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to their chicks.

Keep things clean

As always, try and keep your bird bath and feeders as clean as possible. Take a look at our top tips on keeping your garden birds healthy.