Cool Birds

1991-08 Karin & Teri in sprinklersAs my grandmother always said, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glow.” How do we avoid this sticky situation? Kids run through sprinklers and adults head for the air conditioning, but what do the birds do when the thermometer climbs? They don’t sweat they can’t take advantage of the A/C. However, that doesn’t mean they just sit there and bake, either.

Because birds have relatively high body temperatures—a Golden Kinglet’s temperature was measured at 111° F!—it’s critical that they avoid getting too warm. Many essential proteins begin to break down at temperatures just a few degrees higher, so overheating could easily be fatal. Thankfully, birds have all sorts of ways of beating the heat.

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Wilted

I know July is summertime, but this is ridiculous. We live in Colorado at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Yet day after day the temperature climbs into the 90s (tomorrow’s forecast is for 97°). I always though we’re too high to be this hot!

bok-choy-bolting-home-2003jun30-lahAs I sit here in front of a fan, lemonade in hand, I can see my garden out the window. Of course the lettuce is bolting (as I mentioned last week). The cilantro is in full bloom, with delicate white flowers that attract a variety of beneficial insects. The bok choy is blooming too. Its bright yellow flowers of four petals arranged in the shape of a cross declare that it’s a crucifer, or mustard family member.

In this heat, keeping things watered is essential. Last week we had hours of rain. This week all that mud is baking into pottery. Mulches help, and the soil is still damp where a thick layer of straw shades it from the hot sun.

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Mid-Summer Abundance

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July is not the best time to go birding. The sweat drips from under your floppy hat and smears the view through your binos, and there’s a puddle soaking your shirt under your sling/backpack/fanny pack. It’s a challenge just carrying enough water to stay hydrated.

The birds aren’t cooperating, either. Most of the males have stopped singing now that they have their mates and their territories. Soon they’ll be molting out of their breeding plumage into something much duller and harder to identify. Some are already thinking about heading south, although they won’t actually leave town for a few more weeks.

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Some Cool Birding Ideas

sunset-grandcanyon-plhSpring migration is over, and the birds are all focused on mating and raising their families. The weather is too darn hot outside to be enjoyable, especially when one is hauling binos, field guide, water, scope with tripod, notebook, lunch, and possibly a camera. Then, to top things off, the sun is coming up at an hour when even birders would prefer to catch a few extra zzz’s. The early birds can have their worms.

Of course, most of us won’t let a few inconveniences like that stop us from birding. Sure, we may have a bit less enthusiasm, but we’ll still traipse around in the hot sun if there is the possibility of seeing some birds. But wait. You don’t have to suffer in the heat. There are a few things we can do to make our excursions more bearable.

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