Coping with the heat?

If you’re wondering how the wildlife is coping with this 100+ weather, here’s how our GBH is behaving.

Is this posture dissipating heat or collecting heat?

I’ve seen Great Blue Herons in this pose before, but I always thought it was a way of gaining heat, not cooling oneself off. I think, however, it also serves to help straighten curled feathers, but still a strange behavior in this heat. The bird was facing the sun so it seems the wings would to act as a parabolic reflector.

If that strange posture wasn’t enough, the heron struck this pose (below) a few minutes later.

Your caption here…

During this entire display the heron was panting, its gular pouch (the white area just under the bill, top photo) was constantly vibrating, fluttering rapidly. Like dogs, birds “sweat” by panting so this heron is obviously hot to a point where it needs to thermoregulate, cool down.

The boulder that the heron is standing on must be rather hot as well. At the time of day the photo was taken (4:30 PM) it had been in direct sun for at least six hours.

Strange behavior, indeed!

4 responses to Coping with the heat?

  1. Kristin says:

    Cool pictures! Very strange behavior- it certainly seems like it is exposing more surface area to the sun but maybe it is more like elephant’s ears. Interesting!

    • Greg Dodge says:

      I think the reason elephants can dissipate heat through the flapping of their big floppy ear flaps is due to the presence of an extensive network of blood vessels in the flaps. The blood returning to the body is cooler than when it entered the ear flaps.
      Herons can dissipate heat through their gular pouch and their legs. Most birds that make their living swimming or walking in water have a shunt built into their legs which allows them to regulate the flow of blood through the legs. This is especially helpful in winter when the water can get quite cold and heat loss could be fatal, they reduce the flow of blood through the legs at this time. I would think the heron better off if it stepped down off the rock and into the water to cool off. I’ll bet though, that the water is not much cooler than the air in this situation, perhaps equal in temperature.
      I don’t know what’s going on with the wings. There may be some heat loss, but it seems that there would be heat gain in the posture shown. The bird is not flapping its wings, nor is there a vast network of blood vessels (like in elephant’s ears) flowing through the wings, most of the wing is feathers.
      I’m thinking that it has more to do with straightening the flight feathers and or getting rid of parasites. But, who knows, it may be serving many purposes, including thermoregulation.

  2. dj says:

    The GBH looks like one of those trench coat flashers! Can’t believe spreading the wings is more cooling than being in the water. Thank you as I do wonder how all the museum animals are doing in this heat.

    • Greg Dodge says:

      It does look like a flasher!
      I’m fairly certain that the water is in the 90s, high nineties. It’s very shallow, doesn’t move and soaks up the sun all day. But, as you say, it must be cooler than standing in the direct sun. I don’t see turtles our basking in this weather!

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