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Why Birds Sunbathe? Hot, Bothered, and Parasite-free (New 2022)

“Why Birds Sunbathe? What better way to warm up than chat about the sun?” I thought as the days grew shorter and colder. As I relax in the sun’s warmth with friends over lunch, I note my recent restaurant patio visit. The sensation of the sun’s warm tendrils on my skin is so fantastic and delightful, and I’m glad to hear that birds are known to sunbathe and may do so for fun and pleasure as well.

Ornithologists have been observing sunbathing since 1831, when John James Audubon observed a great white heron. According to him, the bird would lower its wings as if they were dislocated. According to other birders, sunbathing birds may look to be wounded if they remain immobile with their wings spread wide or drooped on the ground. Birders advise anybody encountering a bird in this situation to carefully watch the bird before upsetting it since their behavior might be due to something other than discomfort or disease.

According to studies on this activity, more than 50 bird families are known to sunbathe. Sunbathing or “sunning” is enjoyed by birds such as chickadees, cormorants, doves, finches, jays, larks, swallows, and others. On the other hand, different bird species may sun themselves at different times of the day and for various reasons.

Birds are supposed to sunbathe while sitting on a limb or the ground to warm their bodies on chilly days, obtain Vitamin D, aid in the dispersion of essential oils and the feathers, and dry off after bathing; wet wings reduce flying effectiveness. On sweltering days, birds may be observed sunbathing with an open beak, as though panting like our canine companions. The most crucial reason birds sunbathe is to rid themselves of parasites like feather lice.

Why Birds Sunbathe

Birds are frequently observed preening their feathers, which they must do to preserve their health and attractiveness, which influences their ability to locate a good spouse during the breeding season. Feather lice are one millimeter long and comprised of keratin, the same material that makes up a bird’s feathers. Preening alone isn’t always enough to get rid of these troublesome parasites. Thus sunlight is supposed to assist birds in avoiding parasites. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, several scientific studies have suggested that sunbathing can kill lice directly. The increased temperatures may induce lice to shift, making them easier to preen by birds.

In other words, birds sunbathe to maintain their general health. Furthermore, better knowledge of our feathery companions’ maintenance behavior might help conserve. Birds that spend a lot of time sunning themselves may carry more parasites, which can affect the host’s health and the health of others who come into touch with them. Understanding a bird’s behavior and reaction to changes in the environment might provide crucial information for maintaining the survival of particular species across the world.

Many birders have seen what appears to be a strange sight: a bird on the ground or perched with its wings spread wide, basking in the warm sunlight. If the temperature is high enough, the bird may even pant like a dog with its mouth open.

Sunbathing, sometimes known as “sunning,” has been seen by ornithologists since at least 1831, when John James Audubon recorded a Great White Heron that “would occasionally droop its wings several inches as if they were dislocated.” He knew why the bird was expanding its feathers in the sun’s warmth, but he didn’t know why.

Scientists now know that birds from over 50 different families sunbathe. Birds of prey, rails, doves, larks, swallows, thrushes, finches, buntings, and other members of these groups are all susceptible to the sun at various times and for different reasons. Turkey Vultures, for example, may fly up into a perch on a frigid morning and open their wings to the sun, enabling the day’s first rays to blast away the night’s frost. When mousebirds, endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa, need to dry their chilly, damp plumage after rain or heavy dew, they would typically sun themselves communally, much like wet swimmers at the pool.

While birds need the sun for practical reasons such as warmth and dryness, a growing body of research now suggests they also use it to eliminate troublesome parasites that live on their skin and feathers.

“Sunning appears to be a good means of managing ectoparasites,” says University of Northern Illinois researcher Jennifer Koop. “At least in terms of looking at it, we’ve come a long way from ‘this is an uncommon and weird behavior’ to ‘you know, this is a quite typical habit that probably serves a variety of roles.'”

Birds spend roughly 9% of their time engaged in so-called maintenance activities. They use their bills to remove dirt, mud, and other impurities from their feathers and seek unwelcome hitchhikers—parasites like feather lice—with their accounts. A feather louse is just around 1 millimeter long and is formed of keratin, the same substance that makes up bird feathers, human hair, and nails. Feather lice are so good at hiding within a bird’s feathers that they might be challenging to get rid of just by preening. The presence of lice isn’t simply a health concern for birds; it can also make it more difficult for them to locate mates, potentially due to duller plumage or the necessity for more regular preening.

Scientists have only lately studied sunning’s relationship with parasite prevention. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University sprayed a pesticide intended to treat mite and louse infestations in caged birds on a group of wild Violet-green Swallows in 1993. Then they waited to see how much time the birds spent on their preferred sunbathing area, the research laboratory’s gleaming metal roof. They discovered that the pesticide-sprayed swallows spent less sunbathing than the clean ones, implying that the birds sunbathe to keep their lice at bay.

Although the exact mechanism by which sunlight kills lice is unknown, scientists currently assume that brief bursts of heat, UV radiation, or a mix of both from the sun’s rays are most likely to blame. A pair of scientists investigated this theory by creating a couple of imitation bird wings with actual Black Noddy feathers and infesting them with a single louse in research published a few years after the swallow experiment. According to the researchers, even a brief period in direct sunlight—around 10 minutes—heated the wings to 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is far higher than the temperatures needed to kill bedbugs, which die at about 120 degrees. The louse perished in six of the twelve trials, and it killed in six of the seven trials where the temperature of the feathers exceeded 140 degrees.

New research released in December supported this discovery that brief bursts of sunshine can act as a non-chemical insecticide. When a group of Spanish researchers was in Guinea-Bissau, a nation on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, they noticed severely endangered Hooded Vultures panting in a clearing with their wings spread wide, almost brushing the hot sand beneath them. They weren’t sure what to make of the scruffy birds’ behavior, but they discovered they were tanning upon closer study.

After capturing them, the researchers identified lice in the feathers of four Hooded Vultures. “They were infested,” says lead author Jorge Gutiérrez, an avian biologist at the University of Extremadura in Badajoz, Spain. “They had hundreds of lice, especially beneath the wing coverings.” “They were also stuffed with eggs.” That was a very unexpected turn of events.” The discovery of so many lice and eggs piqued the team’s interest in how the intense sun may be assisting the birds in keeping the parasites at bay.

They collected 41 lice from the trapped vultures and placed them on feathers in Petri dishes to explore. To begin, the researchers set ten creeps in the shade for 20 hours, just one of which died. The remaining lice were then exposed to direct sunlight at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes, resulting in the death of 26, or 84 percent, of the parasites. The lice that survived were then exposed to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point they died. According to Gutiérrez, these data clearly show that sunbathing for brief periods might successfully destroy lice.

In addition to killing lice, experts believe that high temperatures may force individual lice to relocate from their hiding places before death, making them easier to preen by birds. However, more study is required.

According to Gutiérrez, understanding sunbathing might help conserve efforts and decipher a peculiar bird habit. Ectoparasites have been related to a decline in host fitness and the transfer of infectious illnesses, and a bird that suns frequently may have more lice. “We know how birds respond to parasites and environmental circumstances,” he adds, “and we can also evaluate their health by looking at how birds modify their behavior.” Knowing which birds are more prone to spreading disease—or dying from it—is vital for researchers studying Hooded Vultures. This species is susceptible to avian flu strains from eating dead poultry.

The next step in Gutiérrez’s research is to figure out how hot birds become when sunning—the ground surrounding them and their feathers. He intends to accomplish so by measuring the body heat of Hooded Vultures in the field using thermal photography. Given the high temperatures necessary to eliminate lice, the severe heat of the West African savannas, and the Hooded Vulture’s black plumage, Gutiérrez and his crew are likely to be surprised once more.

Pledge to join Audubon in calling on government leaders to heed to research and work toward climate solutions as birds tell us to.

See Also: https://www.thespruce.com/bird-sunning-386442#:~:text=In%20cold%20weather%20or%20early,or%20when%20food%20is%20scarce.

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People also ask - FAQ

Birds usually sunbathe on the ground, however, they may occasionally perch themselves higher up, such as in a tree or on a roof. The states that birds prefer open locations with unimpeded sunshine, although they may also be found sunning themselves in little pockets of sunlight.

Sunbathing performs a couple of vital functions for birds, according to the British Trust for Ornithology. It first aids in the distribution of essential oils throughout the feathers. Second, the heat aids in the eradication of parasites that may be feasting on the bird's plumage. Every bird that worships the sun worships it in a different way.

The spread-wing stance, sometimes known as sunbathing, is used by birds to take advantage of the early sun's warmth and aid with insulation. Birds can maintain a warm body temperature without using as much energy from food, which is essential in challenging climbs.

Scientists now know that birds from over 50 different families sunbathe. Birds of prey, rails, doves, larks, swallows, thrushes, finches, buntings, and other members of these groups are all susceptible to the sun at various times and for different reasons.

The heat helps to loosen the parasites, making it easier for the bird to remove them with its beak. Some parasites and their eggs can also be killed by sunlight, either by exposing them to UV radiation or by desiccating them, or drying them out until they die.

Birds, like humans, cool off by taking a bath or going swimming. Birds may release their body heat to the colder water surrounding them by submerging exposed skin. After a wash, some birds puff up their feathers and spread their wings to catch the wind, which helps them chill off even more.

Although changing your garden into a shaded landscape may take some time, it will pay off in the long term for birds seeking cooler resting places—and for anybody who enjoys observing garden birds.

Dust baths, also known as dusting, dirt baths, or sand bathing, are an important element of a bird's preening and plumage upkeep. The dust that is rubbed into the feathers of the bird absorbs excess oil, preventing the feathers from getting greasy or matted.

Lethargy. Because birds are usually quite busy, any signs of lethargy, melancholy, or exhaustion should be addressed seriously. Birds seen laying on the bottom of the cage or refusing to leave their nests or perches are frequently unwell and require emergency medical attention.

Sunning is a technique in which birds dry their feathers by exposing their wings to the sun at sunset. Sunning helps birds stay warm and keep their feathers healthy by destroying lice, mites, and other parasites in the sunshine.

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