Yes, it’s spring and it isn’t hot in most parts of the country yet. But don’t let 7 inches of snow in the Midwest fool you… summer is coming.
And with hotter temperatures come more challenges for backyard birds.
WHEN THE AIR GETS HOT
I’m always amazed by how Mother Nature (when left alone) does a good job of taking care of her own.
But that’s not to say we humans can’t help out.
One of my favorite resources, The Spruce, points out that birds have naturally higher body temperatures—around 105° F or 40° C. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel the heat.
Birds have bare spots on their bodies—like their feet, legs, and face—that allow for heat loss. Their high respiration rate also helps get rid of the heat even when they aren’t panting which, like dogs, helps cool them off.
Birds know to lay low during really hot days. They reduce their level of activity and hang out in the cooler shade of trees and bushes. Once the evening comes around and the air cools a bit, you’ll start to see them moving around again.
Another thing birds do to keep cool is fluff their feathers and hold their wings out. These behaviors circulate air and let body heat escape.
And those little specks in the summer sky? Soaring birds will get high in the air, above the heat, where the air can be substantially colder.
When the meteorologists tell you to wear light clothing on hot days, it’s because lighter colors reflect heat. It makes sense that birds with light-colored feathers benefit from being able to reflect heat better than darker birds.
HOT WEATHER HELP
Like I said, Mother Nature is great but with climate change, natural processes don’t always function as planned. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to help birds keep their cool.
Provide a Birdbath
Nothing beats a hot day like a dip in the pool. But don’t just put out a bowl of water and think it’s a done deal.
First, because birds can drown it’s important to pay attention to the depth of the water. Make sure the water is a 1/2 to 1 inch deep along the edge and no deeper than 2 inches in the center. You can add a large rock or some clean, rough stones to bring up the water level if yours is too deep.
Don’t forget to clean the rocks when you clean the bath.
Second, make sure you install your bath in a shady area, if you can. You want to keep the water cold. Change it out or add ice cubes every couple of hours. My neighbor uses one of those blue-colored icepacks you find in lunch bags. Genius.
Those are the basics of bird baths, but adding something that makes the water move is a sure-fire way to attract the most birds and enhance your enjoyment of your backyard buddies.
Add Some Pool Toys
The sounds, shimmers, and sparkles of moving water hit by the sun draw a bird’s attention. And moving water will deter mosquitoes and other bugs that lay their eggs in water. They can’t lay if the water is moving. No West Nile virus here!
Try adding a wiggler. These little gadgets shake and make moving rings in the bath like a stone thrown into a lake. Many use batteries so running an electric line is not an issue… nor are electric shocks.
You can also spring for a mister (that’s a completely intentional pun), which can sometimes be adjusted to drip so that it creates ripples in the bath.
Misters are very effective at attracting hummingbirds that typically don’t like the deeper water of a bath. The antics of four or more hummers will draw even the most gaming-addicted kid to the window.
Keep Food Fresh and Available
We’ve all experienced those days when it’s been just too dang hot to cook. What do you do? Eat out or order in, of course!
By keeping your feeders clean and filled, your birds can eat in… sort of. They won’t have to go out and use as much energy to find food.
But watch out for suet.
Unless you can buy suet that is specially formulated not to melt in the heat (they have more corn in them), skip it. Suet can quickly become rancid in high heat. Instead, substitute some high-energy nuts.
When planning your bird-friendly garden this year, don’t forget the shade. It’s Mother Nature’s plan that so many of the plants, trees, and shrubs that produce shade also produce food birds enjoy.
Young chicks have a difficult time regulating their body heat, and if they’re stuck in an airless nesting box the result can be heartbreaking.
Make sure your bird houses have ventilation holes under the eaves and close to the top of the walls. If you want to build your own bird house, get a well-designed blueprint and make sure it includes ventilation holes. If it doesn’t, add some.
Here’s some to get you started: Bird House Blueprints
You’ll also want to paint them a light color to reflect the heat of the sun. For some bird house painting tips, including do’s, and don’ts, you can use this guide: Birdhouse Colors and Painting Birdhouses.