Dust – the bird’s cold shower

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To tidy up a loose end from a couple of weeks ago, the spotted flycatchers nesting in the roof gutter managed to fledge successfully.

They were extremely lucky that it never rained during their stay.

At the time of writing, the hot weather is still being experienced and it is many years since I have spent so much time in the garden.

It was fascinating to watch how some creatures coped with the heat. It can’t be much fun being a blackbird in such conditions, but they have some strange behavioural tricks to keep themselves cool.

I watched one doing the obvious thing first by having a cool bath, making sure all its feathers were really wet.

It then hopped to a spot which catches any breeze and it spread out its wings and feathers to allow the circulating air to reach its hot skin.

It then opened its beak and began to pant like a dog. This, too, helps to dissipate heat as birds have no sweat glands.

It stayed in this trance-like position for several minutes before finally flying off.

Sparrows, on the other hand, have been taking advantage of the dry conditions to take frequent dust baths in the vegetable plot.

They are part of a bird’s preening and plumage maintenance that keeps feathers in top condition. The dust that is worked into the bird’s feathers will absorb excess oil to help keep the feathers from becoming greasy or matted, and the oil-soaked dust is then shed easily to keep the plumage clean and flexible.

Dry skin and other debris can also be removed with excess dust, and regular dusting may help smother or minimize lice, feather mites and other parasites.

To take a dust bath, a bird begins by scraping their feet in dry, fine, crumbly dirt or sand to create a wallow.

Lowering the breast to the ground and rolling or rocking may deepen the depression, and the bird will flip its wings vigorously, similar to bathing in water, to spread dust over the entire body.

During this frantic motion, the feathers may be fluffed and the tail spread so the dust can reach the skin more easily, and the bird may rub its head to the ground as well to coat the shorter feathers on the cheeks.

After a few moments of this dry bathing, the bird will pause, but the bathing motion may be repeated until the bird is sufficiently coated in dust.

At that time, the bird may fly to a nearby perch or will first shake off some excess dust before perching.

Preening or sunning often follows immediately after a dust bath as the bird continues its extensive grooming regimen.

Yes, the fine weather provides us with a great opportunity to sit quietly and observe our native wildlife coping with the vagaries of our ever changing climate.

Not for them an ice-cream or cold shower – they have to utilise what is around them to keep cool when the mercury rises.