Readers’ wildlife photos

September 3, 2021 • 8:00 am

We’re running uncomfortably low on wildlife photos, so if you have some good ones, please send them in!

Today’s photos are a series from Susan Harrison, a professor of ecology from UC Davis who has contributed once before. She portrays the many ways birds cope with extreme heat. Susan’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.


Spring and summer 2021 provided all too many opportunities to observe the ways birds cope with hot weather.   Most of the pictures below were taken on days that reached the mid-30’s Celsius (mid-90’s Fahrenheit).  The birds seemed to be doing fine, but who knows what future years will bring.

PANTING.    These birds at Falcon State Park, Texas, in April look like they were calling or singing but they were actually panting.

Curve-billed Thrasher, Toxostoma curvirostre:

Long-billed Thrasher, T. longirostre:

Green Jay, Cyanocorax luxuosus:

Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullock:

GULAR FLUTTERING:  An enhanced form of panting, found in some birds with throat pouches, seen here at Edinburg Wetlands Park, Texas, in April. [JAC: Mallards do this.]

Neotropic Cormorants, Phalacocorax brasiliensis:

FEATHER FLUFFING:  This heat-deflecting technique may – I’m not sure – be what this bird was using on a hot April afternoon at Falcon State Park.

Vermilion Flycatcher, Pyrocephalus obscurus:

BATHING:   The cooling approach most enjoyed by birds, humans, and other animals, here seen in Putah Creek, California in May.

Yellow Warbler, Setophaga petechia:

RESTING IN THE SHADE:   These two large raptors were hanging out not far from each other along Putah Creek in May.   Maybe it was too hot for songbirds to bother mobbing them?

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, juvenile:

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus:

SHADING THE NEST:  Herons are known to use their wings to shade chicks in the nest.  Four weeks after this photo was taken in Ashland, Oregon in May, temperatures reached 24 degrees Celsius above the long-term mean June high.  I wasn’t around to see if these parents spread wings over their four young.  Next time I’ll brave the heat and look.

Great Blue Herons, Ardea herodias:

FORAGING EARLY IN THE DAY:  This species is an alpine specialist that forages around snowfields in summer.  On a peak above Crater Lake, Oregon, on a day that hit 20 degrees Celsius above the long-term mean July high, I saw them active only before 8:00 am.  The last small patches of snow largely disappeared that day.   Will this species be the bird equivalent of pikas, with nowhere to go in a warmer climate?

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Leucosticte tephrocrotis:



13 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Great pics, Susan! Thanks for sharing. I’ve seen crows in Death Valley flying around with their mouths agape. Also many burned tootsies.

  2. I love the information and photos. I am unfamiliar with panting birds but I guess we will be seeing more of it.
    Thank you!

  3. I had no idea how many methods birds use to cool down- great and informative information. I wonder if there are places in the city with unique cool-down methods. Cement gets quite cool in the shade.

  4. When temps exceeded 100 degrees F here, birds came to the feeder only in the morning and the jays panted.

    An interesting form of cooling in Pied-billed Grebes is wing-shuffling. The birds resting on water or the nest raise and lower the folded wings alternately and quickly. The forces air over two areas of mostly bare skin, where heat can be exchanged. (Most of a grebe’s surface is densely feathered.) Often they bathe before wing-shuffling. Interestingly, the area cooled by wing-shuffling is also the area where grebe chicks are brooded, another process that involves heat exchange.

  5. I have a question: What does the phrase, “20 degrees Celsius above the long-term mean July high” mean? Susan uses this phrasing a couple of times.
    If the mean long-term June/July high is 31 degrees celsius, does this mean she is talking about temperatures in the area of 50 degrees celsius and above?
    A bit of clarity please.
    Nice photos.

    1. I understood her to be talking about an area at high altitude that usually stays cool enough in July to keep some snow cover. Certainly not a place that has 30 degrees as mean July high.

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