WHAT’S THAT IN THE CLOT?
Welcome to the hot days, for some people the best time of the year. You can lounge by your swimming pool or on the beach, ice cold drink to hand and a parasol to move beneath if you are beginning to crisp at the edges. You can strip off layers of clothing, and if necessary decamp to that part of Carabassi beach which apparently allows such things. You can wipe the sweat from your brow and put on your air conditioning if it all gets a bit too much.
But if you’re a bird, you don’t have these solutions. You are covered with a layer of dense feathers which you can’t strip off, and you might be stuck in a nest like the two birds in my photo with no access to water and little cover from the rays of the sun. So what do you do?
This pair are two of at least four young Kestrels which I found on a very hot day in their nest in a palm tree, just a few days before they were ready to fledge. They are employing one of the main techniques which birds use to cool down, which is called gular fluttering, in which they open their beaks wide and vibrate their neck muscles, promoting evaporation of the moisture in their neck and lungs thus cooling themselves down.
Of course birds have a higher metabolic rate than we humans do, the average bird has a body temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), so they need to control their body heat even more. Bare skin patches on the legs, feet, and face allow greater heat loss than if every area were covered with feathers. Even small patches such as a fleshy eye ring can help dissipate heat. Some birds can even swell those patches to increase the surface area if they are hotter and need to cool off more quickly.
Another method is to fluff out their feathers, allowing air to get in and about them, or the parents may cover them with spread wings. Often this is not always possible, the need to hunt and provide the youngsters with food is their most pressing requirement.
Of course these young Kestrels don’t have access to fresh water, so how do they keep hydrated? The answer lies in their diet – the parents will bring them prey items such as rodents, small birds and large insects which contain enough water to keep them going – meat has a high water content, which is one reason why you rarely see raptors at watering places such as are found in the Clot.
Kestrels are by far the commonest raptors in our area, you will see them both in the Clot and in the surrounding countryside. Watch for them as they use their favourite hovering technique – rock-steady in the air while they scan the ground below, then dive down and grab their prey.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com