This recent bout hot summer weather has been murder on all living things and birds are no exception. While birds can’t sweat (they can pant), they can seek relief through shade and shower. Bathing is a popular pastime for hot little birds. Some smaller birds will hit the liquid five times a day. This is not just a function of cooling, however. It is also a means of staying fit. By washing off the excess preening oil, birds can prevent their feathers from becoming matted and thus maintain their avian attire.
Open puddles are safe bathing spots but they become harder to find in hot weather (they dry up!). It is no wonder, then, that a certain renegade puddle of water has become a “hot” spot for a whole host of birds lately. The location results from a faulty sprinkler system leaking water onto a low point of a sidewalk so the resulting puddle rarely dries up. Fully exposed to the sun, the water becomes quite warm from the effects of solar heating. I suppose the place is like a Roman bath. About the only thing missing from the customers of this mini-spa are little white towels, hairy chests and gold chains.
The diversity of avian bathers was remarkable. While observing the spot for only ten minutes (actually 11 minutes but who’s counting), I saw Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, Goldfinches (see above), Baltimore Orioles (see below), Yellow Warblers (all the rest of the photos), and lots of Robins. Even though there were many different kinds of fowl in attendance, all seemed to share a common technique.
Some birds were un-nerved by my presence (as would I, come to think of it) but most eventually waded in and, after modestly looking about, fluffed their feathers and bent down for a polite belly dip. A wild series of wing flapping then followed in which water was sprayed about with wild abandon. The head and breast were eventually plunged into the drink as multiple waves of liquid were allowed to roll down the back. After a repeat series of these maneuvers, at which stage the birds looked more like “drowned rats,” than birds, they flew up to the nearest branch to shake, fluff, and preen themselves back into shape.
I especially enjoyed the performance of a female Yellow Warbler who visited the “The Baths”. She proceeded as described above and completely let herself go by the end of the sequence. Like those who preceded her, she opened her mouth after the first dip and kept it open until the bath was done. I hate to assign emotion to any animal, but you’ve got to admit this looks like a very satisfied little bird (see photos).
Yellows are wetland birds and it is likely they do this kind of thing all the time in the privacy of the marsh but they don’t often show themselves. They dash about elusively and are more often heard than seen (saying “Tee Tee Tee Tiddly Dee”). Seen in the act of washing, however, these little yellow birds – in fact all feathered fowl – are personalized. One can understand what they are doing and appreciate what it means to frolic in the water. I’d say they almost appear human but I won’t (say it, that is.)