Splooting works for some species but birds can use our assistance with other strategies:
Extreme temperatures add stress to already-fragile ecosystems. Here’s how you can help birds stay cool.
Extreme weather events like heat waves remind us of how urgent the climate crisis really is. Climate change is happening already, and it is straining human and natural systems alike. Recent, deadly heat waves have broken records across the United States and around the world, and summers are expected to get even more sweltering from here on out.
This is a dangerous trend for birds. Audubon’s 2019 Survival by Degrees report found that global temperature rise threatens the survival of many of the continent’s bird species as their historic ranges become uninhabitable. Extreme heat waves, coupled with droughts, are likely to “cause large amounts of mortality” and “add another stressor to bird populations,” says ornithologist Blair Wolf of the University of New Mexico. “If it’s really hot, they can’t evaporate enough water to stay cool, so they die of heatstroke. If it’s hot and there’s no water, then they get dehydrated and may die of dehydration.”
Avoiding the worst effects of a warming climate for birds and people will require decisive action. “We need a holistic approach to extreme events because they’re a part of the climate change story, and they’re only going to get worse if we don’t do anything,” says Brooke Bateman, Audubon’s director of climate science.
You don’t have to be a lawmaker to make a difference, though—helping birds can start in your own backyard. So grab a cold beverage, turn on a fan, and read on for some ways you can help birds deal with extreme heat.
Wolf, who has been studying avian responses to extreme heat for over two decades, says that water and shade are the two most important things an individual can provide to help birds stay cool. That’s because both are essential for the strategies birds use to avoid overheating.
When temperatures spike, birds vent excess body heat by evaporating water from their lungs and upper respiratory tract—panting, essentially. This can be effective for offloading heat, but it quickly uses up a bird’s water resources. “The higher the air temperature is, the more water they have to evaporate, and the more frequently they have to drink,” Wolf says…
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