Birds are fragile creatures, they are highly sensitive to toxins, energy deprivation and physical injury. However, they possess a remarkable talent for regulating their body temperature. Humans and other mammals can produce sweat to cool off, but birds must resort to more creative means to keep heat in or out.
Activity and Shade
Regulating energy expenditure is a fundamental of temperature management for birds as well as mammals. Birds lay low during the hottest parts of the day and seek food or other necessities in the cooler morning and evening hours. While you lounge underneath of a porch umbrella to escape the sun, many birds also seek refuge from the sun's rays in the shade of trees and other shelter. Shaded areas close to the ground tend to provide the most protection from extreme heat. Some birds take to the skies on hot days to find relief in the cooler temperatures of higher altitudes.
While they may not drool as much as the dog, birds are also able to pant to release body heat through their open mouths. Birds take rapid breaths of cool air into their bodies and release it along with a portion of their body heat. Bird lungs are actually quite different from the human respiratory organ. Air can travel through in a single direction without disturbing air already contained within the organ, which allows them to cool off quickly without sacrificing oxygen absorption. Some bird species can also flex their throat or mouth to increase the surface area of artery-laden tissue, lowering their body temperature even more.
Swimming around a cold pond and walking on ice seems like a great way to get cold feet, but many birds manage just fine. They are able to do this thanks to the close proximity of the veins and arteries in their legs. Heat from blood flowing towards the legs warms the colder blood coming back from the feet, while the cold blood in the veins cools the warmer fluid in the arteries. This stops too much heat from getting lost through the bird's exposed appendages and keeps the blood from cooling the animal's entire body. Birds can also tighten blood vessels near their feet to slow circulation to exposed areas to reduce the rate of heat loss in frigid environments.
Other Temperature Management Tactics
If you've seen birds standing on one leg, chances are it's not because they are injured or unable to walk. This is actually a heat conservation strategy that many feathered species employ. Birds also sit to cover their feet with body feathers when it's cold out. Eating a lot helps too. Birds tend to have higher body temperatures than mammals, and they maintain it thanks to a voracious appetite. Some species consume food equal to about 20 percent of their weight every day.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.