The last few days have seen the hottest temperatures for November on record here in Sydney, and much of NSW Friday 36°C (97°F) followed by Saturday 41°C (106°F) with an early morning temp of 30°C (86°F) making sleep an ordeal for many. In the midst of the Friday heat I set out see how the birds in my local reserve were faring, and found most of them sensibly taking the usual precautions for extreme heat, as Aussie birds have learnt to do. I thought it worthwhile to review the ways our birds deal with very hot Aussie days. You may be surprised to know that birds have a higher body temperature than most other creatures (around 40°C) which rises with their very active high metabolic rate.
1. Thermoregulation (panting): When it gets too hot for birds you will see them with their mouths open and silently panting to release heat from inside the body by evaporation in to the air from the mouth (beak). Birds pant like we do when hot for the same reason. One of interesting things each bird I saw on my walk and even the Grey Butcherbird ‘Butch’ above and his son (below), when they visited the birdbath held their mouths continually open. The Grey Butcherbird seldom hangs around the birdbath, but today he and junior did.
As I walked through the reserve, no one passed me, I was alone with the birds, many very quiet in the heat of hottest time of the day, but they mostly displayed the same cooling mechanism.
2. Shade and rest (inactivity): One of the first steps to dealing with hot sun is to get out of its direct heat by resting under shade. Shade and resting under it, both together assist to decrease excess body heat, as work or burning energy with our bodies naturally produces heat, so to rest in the shade is a dual help. Most of the birds were standing or lying idle in the shade when I saw them. Interesting, the always very active Brown Thornbill was even allowing me to photograph it, a rarity.
I found that the several Eastern Water Dragons I saw on the track were actually sunning themselves in the shade, which is quite extraordinary.
3. Bathing in or standing in cool water: Water is a very effective means of quickly dissipating body heat, especially if the water is splashed over the areas of naked skin on the bird’s body, by lifting wings and thrashing, and lowering face under the water. This is why birdbaths maintained by thoughtful humans are a great asset to local Aussie birds, especially in heat waves. Birds know where reliable water is found, and tell their mates. They also know when you refill or refresh the baths, returning seconds later to use them. See my special article on birdbaths on my Homepage. If a bird has not enough water for bathing, just standing in the water will assist to thermoregulate their body temperature as their legs and feet are actually cooling radiators for their hot body core. This why it is wise to place bird baths under trees in shade. It keeps the water cool and gives them safe fly in and out places to rest and preen.
We saw these Apostlebirds when we were out west a month ago cooling off ona hot day, you may remember the the video.
Or these Rainbow Bee-eaters using the super quick diving in technique to bathe in a lake in Cairns. The video is half normal speed.
Our own local Noisy Miner coalition, headed by Noisy himself do the same,
4. Spreading wings and ruffling feathers: to expose underlying skin: This is usually done when there is a breeze and best after having a bath as the residual water helps to further cool them down.
These waterbirds showed no heat problem as they were in a cool shady part of the pond, and the water offered a good heat dissipation process considering they were in and on it most of the day. The juvenile Dusky Moorhen and the Chestnut Teal family seemed quite rested.
Lastly, the flowering of the Australian Christmas Bush, is the bush herald of that soon to be celebratory season around the corner. It was lovely to see so much of it in full bloom even in the intense heat.
Enjoy your week and stay safe and cool. If you are birding make sure you stay well hydrated and sheltered from the sun, with hat and sunscreen lotion. Be on the lookout on the path ahead for snakes sunning themselves on the track and stamp your feet in uncertain areas before proceeding.
My book “What Birds Teach Us” the perfect Christmas gift, is available here online or at any of the listed shops here.
It was interesting to find some birds of a specie faring poorly in the heat and others quite unaffected, as was the case for these two siblings, I always meet on the track (I call the twins) as they are always together, and are immature, almost mature late in their third year. They trust me and will allow me to stand and pass within inches without moving away. I found another lying in the blazing sun for several minutes. They usually do this to assist spreading their preening oil and to rid their plumes of lice, but today ? Magpies forage and feed on the ground unlike most passerines. Each bird is an individual and each is affected differently by their environment and lifestyle, similar to us humans. My wife hates being cold, and I love it, but I hate being hot and humid and she loves it. I enjoy red wine she enjoys white. She prefers appearance and I prefer practical. She hoards and I am tidy keeping a minimum of possessions. I enjoy being and working in quiet peaceful places whereas she loves having her music playing when she works or rests at home. Learning to respect and accept each others differences, is an important aspect of love in any relationship – we all need To Give A Little Love
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults [differences] because of your love.” – Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” – Ephesians 4:31 (NLT)
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud, or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged” – 1 Corinthians 13:4,5 (NLT)
W. A. Hewson (Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy).
‘To introduce people to our unique Australian birds,
‘So we can learn from them how to live a healthy and happy life.’
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.