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David Sibley describes how birds deal with summer heat

summer heat
How birds deal with summer heat: A House Finch in a normal posture (left), and in a heat-stress posture with feathers compressed, bill open, and wings out. Illustrations © 2017 David Sibley

With a high body temperature, extremely good insulation, and limited ways to dissipate heat, one of the biggest risks for birds in hot weather is simply overheating. Maintaining a normal activity level in hundred-degree heat is potentially fatal for a bird, and some of the strategies birds use to keep cool can dramatically change their overall appearance.

The activity patterns birds employ to survive the heat are generally what we would call “common sense,” and your strategies for finding birds in hot weather are straightforward. Birds are most active in the cooler temperatures of very early morning, so the earlier you can start birding, the better. As the day warms up, birds slow down and seek shade — especially shade with water. A small pond or stream (or a bird bath) shaded by trees and shrubs will attract birds throughout the day, and if you can find a shady place to sit where you can see the birds without disturbing them, you’ll have a really pleasant time.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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