National Daylight Appreciation Day is observed each year on June 21. This day recognizes summer solstice (the longest day of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere) and encourages people to celebrate the many benefits of the sun. Humans aren’t the only ones who celebrate the sun by soaking it up!
Birds Soak Up the Sun
You may have seen a bird spread out flat on the grass, its wings wide open and its body pressed to the ground. Such an odd sight might have you wondering if the bird was hurt or sleeping in the open. If you waited a few minutes, the bird probably jumped up and took off. While you were probably relieved seeing that it wasn’t injured, what you may not have realized at the time was that the bird was probably sunbathing.
Though it’s common to see a pigeon, sparrow or dove doing this, there are over 170 species of birds that sunbathe. Ornithologists have determined that sunbathing serves several purposes: birds sunbathe to help the preen oil work its way throughout their plumage and to clear parasites from their feathers. It’s vital for birds to rid themselves of these tiny insects as they can cause difficulties in flying, staying warm and the bird’s general appearance, all factors that influence its survival.
How to Spot a Sunning Bird
Bird sunning is the act of spreading out in full sunshine to expose plumage, as well as the bird’s skin, to direct sunlight. It’s one of the few times that the maximum amount of the bird’s plumage gets direct sunlight. Though different species of birds will sunbathe in different ways, there are some tell-tale signs to look for when trying to decide if a bird is sunning, such as:
- The bird is standing with its back to the sun
- The bird is fluffing the feathers on its head and back to expose its skin
- The bird’s wings appear to be stretched, spread or almost drooping
- The bird is spreading its tail
- The bird is raising its wings and its underparts are exposed
- The bird is laying in full sun with one or both wings stretched fully.
Birds may also change positions during sunning to expose different parts of its body to the sun, very much like people do when sunbathing. Sunning is a vulnerable time for a bird, as they choose an open area to get as much sun exposure as they can. It’s not unusual for a bird to seek out areas like a patch of dirt, an open deck or a random patch of sunlight. They will gravitate toward a spot where there are no shadows or obstructions of the sun.
Why Birds Need Sun
Birds are amazing creatures and humans often overlook their innate intelligence. Birds instinctively sun themselves in the early hours of the day, particularly during cold weather, to take advantage of the solar radiation that helps them maintain their body temperature. This helps prevent expending any energy they get from their food, conserving energy for other vital bodily functions. By doing so, they increase their chances of survival in cold climates or areas where food sources may be limited.
However, sunning is not limited to the colder months of the year. Many species will sun on the hottest days for reasons such as:
- Converting compounds in the vital preen oil, located in a gland at the base of the tail, into vitamin D. Without preen oil, the bird’s health will be in jeopardy.
- Drying feathers after being in a birdbath or puddle, which enables easier flying. Wet feathers weigh birds down in flight.
- Some birds sun even on the hottest days just for the pleasure of it, just as we humans do.
The outdoors and sun aren’t just good for birds
Birds aren’t the only ones who will appreciate those extra daylight hours for sunning. You can reap the benefits of the outdoors as well. Birding in the sun offers numerous health benefits. The summer months provide an opportunity to add a few new birds to your birding list and to enjoy health benefits such as:
- Building quick reflexes: Birds can appear out of nowhere and birdwatchers must be ready with their binoculars to spot them.
- Increasing mental alertness: Because birds can be gone in the blink of an eye, the brain of a birdwatcher operates on different levels as it tries to pick up clues of nearby birds, helping you to snap that picture before it’s too late.
- Walking: Birdwatchers typically walk many miles during outings. Depending on the location, birdwatchers must hike, climb and push themselves to limits they wouldn’t normally reach in everyday life. Like the birds on their list, the cardio benefits add up.
- Natural stress reduction: Therapists and doctors alike recommend spending time outdoors for stressed-out patients. Longer daylight hours offer birdwatchers more chances to get outdoors and become mindful of their surroundings, helping to reduce stress levels.
- Boosting overall health benefits: The ultraviolet (or UV) rays from the sun help stimulate the body’s natural production of vitamin D. Having little or no sun exposure puts a person at risk for low levels of vitamin D, a vital nutrient for bone health.
See also: The Benefits of Meditating in Nature
Grab your binoculars and head outdoors! National Daylight Appreciation Day is the perfect time to get a dose of vitamin D thanks to the extended daylight hours. However, it’s recommended that you spend only 15 minutes of unprotected time in the sun in order to absorb vitamin D without increasing your risk of skin cancer. Wearing a good sunblock, choosing an SPF of 50 or higher and reapplying it at regular intervals will allow you to stay outside to safely enjoy the sun and fresh air for longer times, soaking up the myriad of health benefits. What better way to celebrate the day than grabbing your binoculars and heading out to spot a few birds bathing in the sun? Happy sunning!