Be Your Own Birder

20 Ways to Help Wild Birds Keep Cool

As summer temperatures heat up, we often crank up the air conditioner, add more ice to our drinks, dive into the pool, turn on ceiling fans, shed layers of clothes, indulge in ice cream, or take other steps to keep cool and comfortable. Birds, however, don’t have the same options, and can suffer greatly in extreme heat. Fortunately, there are many ways we can help wild birds keep cool with just simple steps in the yard.

Hot Summer Sun - Photo by Mikszu
Hot Summer Sun – Photo by Mikszu

How Heat Affects Birds

Panting Cools Birds Off - Photo by Bernard DUPONT
Panting Cools Birds Off – Photo by
Bernard DUPONT

Extreme heat can be just as uncomfortable and dangerous for wild birds as for any other animal, including humans. While a bird’s average body temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), high summer temperatures can make a bird’s typical environment unbearable. Furthermore, birds do not have sweat glands and do not perspire to cool themselves. Instead, birds may bathe, pant, drink, or soar to cooler air temperatures to stay more comfortable on hot days. Some species will urinate on their legs to take advantage of evaporative cooling (called urohydrosis), while many birds will spread their wings and feathers to catch any small puff of a cooling breeze.

When temperatures are too high, however, wild birds will suffer. Overheating can cause lethargy and exhaustion, leaving birds without energy to care for nestlings, forage effectively, or evade predators. Young birds can smother and die from extreme heat, and even mature birds can be burned if they come into contact with hot surfaces. If wild birds become dehydrated, which can happen quickly in drought-prone regions, they can suffer neurological difficulties and may lose the ability to perch securely or fly. Keeping cool is essential for wild birds to stay strong and healthy through the hellish heat of summer, and fortunately, there are many ways we can help birds stay more comfortable as temperatures climb.

20 Ways to Help Wild Birds Keep Cool

There are more easy ways to help birds keep cool than many birders realize.

  • Keep the Bird Bath Full – More water means birds can bathe and drink more easily, but be sure baths are shallow enough so birds are safe when bathing.
  • Add More Bird Baths – Even small extra dishes will provide more water for wild birds to use. Simple bird baths can be as easy as pie plates, plant saucers, or half-filled bowls.
  • Use Different Bath Designs – Not all birds are comfortable with a ground bird bath or a hanging design. Choosing several designs will ensure your baths appeal to more birds.
American Robin - Splish Splash! - Photo by Steve McDonald
American Robin – Splish Splash! – Photo by Steve McDonald
  • Add Ice to the Bird Bath – Freeze a bowl of water overnight and plop it into the bath each morning for a cool bath that will stay full as the ice melts.
  • Take Advantage of “Free” Water – Put a shallow dish under an air conditioner drip or where a sprinkler may overshoot to collect excess water as an extra bird bath.
  • Provide Deep Shade – Plant landscaping in thicket-like layers to provide deeper, cooler shade for resting birds. Plants with broad leaves will provide the densest, coolest shade.
  • Position Feeders and Baths in the Shade – This will keep both water and food cooler and will help minimize spoilage or insect infestations.
  • Add Moving Water Sources – A mister, dripper, or fountain will alert birds to available water and will give birds more options for cooling off, such as flying through the mist.
  • Provide Water-Rich Foods – Add grapes, oranges, or watermelon to the feeder as an extra source of water for hungry birds.
  • Keep Feeders Full – When birds can visit a feeder, they don’t need to overheat by foraging further away. The healthier the food, the better. Black oil sunflower seed is ideal.
  • Spread Out Feeders – Adding extra feeders and spreading them to more areas of the yard will permit more birds to feed comfortably without squabbling and getting overheated.
  • Add Ventilation to Bird Houses – Extra ventilation holes under house eaves can keep nestlings comfortable, but take care that the holes will not let rain into the house.
  • Shade Bird Houses – Add a sun shade over a bird house to keep the structure even cooler. A simple piece of wood or even a whimsical umbrella will work.
  • Paint Houses Light Colors – A bird house painted white or in light shades will reflect more sunlight and stay cooler than one that is a darker hue.
Light-Colored Houses Stay Cooler - Photo by Paul Schadler
Light-Colored Houses Stay Cooler – Photo by Paul Schadler
  • Stay Out of the Yard – Keep away from baths and feeders during the cooler parts of the day so birds can visit more easily at comfortable times without being scared by pets or kids.
  • Move Feeders Away From Structures – If you have feeders close to the house or a fence, move them away so they are not subjected to as much reflected heat from the walls.
  • Keep Predators Away – Protect feeders, baths, and houses from cats, raccoons, other predators so birds aren’t exerting themselves and heating up to stay safe.
  • Avoid Too Much Metal – Metal poles, baffles, and feeders will all become blisteringly hot in the summer. If possible, use plastic or wood options that will not hold heat as much.
  • Minimize Hard Surfaces – Concrete, gravel, and pavers retain heat more than green landscaping. Remove hard surfaces, or move feeders and baths into natural areas.
  • Donate to Wildlife Rescues – It is inevitable that some birds will still suffer in the heat, as well as from injuries and illnesses in the summer. Donating time, money, or materials to wildlife and bird rescues can keep these organizations operating so more birds get the help they need.

The More, the Merrier

Ideally, it is best to have as many cooling features available in the yard as possible. Personally, I have multiple bird baths at different levels, plant shade landscaping, stay out of the yard, keep the feeders filled, and do a few more depending on the day and the predicted high temperature. While one birder may not be able to take every possible step, the more steps we do take, the cooler birds will be able to stay when it is miserably hot and dangerous.

What steps do you take to help wild birds keep cool? Share your tips in the comments!

American Goldfinch at the Bath - Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS
American Goldfinch at the Bath – Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS

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