Even birds of prey need to beat the heat

As anyone who’s checked out my blogs knows by now, one of my favourite birds is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). It was the first bird that I really got the chance to study. The way they fly, build nests, feed, care for and teach their young has always fascinated me. Among their amazing behaviours, I was always amazed by how the adults stayed cool or sunbathed during the summer. Here are a few of the more interesting behaviours I’ve observed in the heat of the summer over the past couple of years.

The Red-tailed Hawks would often find puddles on the side of the road to jump in and splash around. In the photo above right you can see an adult red tail enjoying a shallow dip in a water dish. I’d only ever seen smaller song birds use bird baths, but of course the larger birds would do it too.

A female Red-tail, while sitting in her nest with her eyas, will spread her wings over the tops of their heads to protect them not just from the rain, but also the heat!  She has a built in umbrella.

Just the other day I saw a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the roof of a house with wings spread open, right. While my first thought was that he might have been injured, it turns out that the juvenile was just sunbathing, enjoying the sun like so many people at the beach.

Red-tailed Hawks deal with the heat and sun in different ways. Some will take a refreshing bath, just like smaller songbirds. Others have been spotted soaking up rays, such as the hawk above.

I’ve also seen a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk lying on a park bench. Sunbathing on a park bench – amazing.

How else do birds of prey stay cool? They reduce activity, and pant. Hawks will also fly higher to reach cooler air.

If you’d like to encourage overheating birds to enjoy your own backyard (no guarantees), you can help them by creating layers of plants, as they would naturally occur in the forest. Having a lot of leaves and branches on or near the ground, where birds will go to rest, would also be inviting. You can also place feeders in the shade or put out water and bird baths for them. While most of your avian guests will be the typical little birds like robins or chickadees you might just be lucky one day and see a big hawk or owl drop by for a few moments of rest and relaxation.

Have any loyal readers, ever seen a bird or animal do something unusual to stay cool?  If yes then I’m hoping you’ll write in and tell me what you’ve seen. Describe your encounter, with photos if you have them, and the top stories will be featured in a fall article!  Email stories and photos to editor@beachmetro.com.

Ann Brokelman’s wildlife and nature photography can be seen at naturephotosbyann.blogspot.com.

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Ann, as always, wonderful information! I can see all your blogs being put into an ebook that people could purchase. Your knowledge shouldn’t be wasted :-))
Warmly, Lindsay

An interesting article Ann. We look forward to your next, and great pictures, a benefit of being able to see the world through the eye of an artist. Warmest regards, Al & Norma

I’ve seen red tails do plenty of things. 🙂 Im in the process of getting my apprentice falcon license. My first bird is a red tail. The guy who will be my teacher makes me come hunting with him in order for me to get my license easier and be my teacher. He has 2 red tails during season, he has his general class license, about to get master. Anyways we have a red tail around my.house, i dont know if it is trying to cool off or not but it frequently swoops down to the water in my pull and hits it. It doesnt have its mouth open or feet down, it just skims the top of the water. With the drought on average it has been 110°-113° on average with the humidity.

OMGoodness that is amazing.
Have you ever captured it on video.
Where do you live with those temperatures?

Eileen, Al and Norma, and Terry thank you for your comments.
Redtail Winery what a great name.
Thanks everyone.


Great article Ann, I always learn something while enjoying your articles. BTW, I will send your article along to The Redtail Winery 🙂

We are watching a hawk stand in the bird bath and stare. It’s 108 so he’s had it. Waiting for fall to kick in!

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