Willow Warbler wing stretching (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

It’s not unusual for folk to indulge themselves and relax in a sunny place to soak up the suns rays, at this time of the year, having first applied protective sun screen, of course.

For birds, it is part of the summer routine, essential for good feather care.  There are a couple of literally hot spots in our garden where I can rely on ‘sunbirds’ if the weather is hot enough.  It can be part of a post water bathing routine,  as shown in the photos of  the Willow Warbler  below.  The bird, as well as using the sun to dry off, is stretching and flexing its plumage back into tip top shape: essential if you are undertaking a long migration across Europe and into Africa, in a few short weeks time.  

Blackbirds are one of the most frequently observed birds that sun bathe in the garden.  Typically, they lie completely flat, looking as if they collided with the garden roller.  From this position they spread the wings and tail , often like a fan and remain motionless, apart from a panting from the open bill.  This position exposes the  preen gland on the rump and stimulates a preen oil to run, a great aid in synthesising Vitamin D and also an aid in dislodging feather parasites.  

Male Blackbird flat-out sun bathing (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

The usefulness of the operation must outweigh the risk the birds take as the are exposed to a passing predator such as a Sparrowhawk or a prowling cat while stretched out.  Other bathing routines include dust bathing ( a favourite of House Sparrows) and smoke bathing, a favourite of crows who will perch on a chimney pot. The  purpose in all cases is to remove a build up of any foreign bodies from the feathers.  Let’s face it, most birds have a pristine plumage, it works!

Song Thrush (c. Oran O’Sullivan)