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Goldfinches In The Rain
Image source: carol

Although birds can look very soggy in the rain they have evolved remarkably well to weather storms. To keep warm, birds trap tiny pockets of air under their feathers, which is the reason why a down coat or duvet is so toasty. However, when their feathers get wet the pockets of air can fill up with water and a bird’s temperature can drop rapidly putting it at risk of hypothermia. Small birds have a high surface-to-volume ratio than larger birds, which means they lose heat more quickly and are therefore more at risk and they also have smaller energy reserves.

Although birds may take shelter under shrubs and bushes when it starts to rain that is only a short-term solution as birds need to eat regularly and to do so means they are going to have to venture out into the open. A bird may be able to hide from the rain for a couple of hours but during a longer shower or storm they will need to get wet or face starvation.

Birds’ feathers are fairly waterproof and rain tends to hit the surface and roll away without being absorbed into their skin. In light showers you will see birds fluff up their feathers to keep warm but in heavy rain they will flatten down their feathers to make them more water-resistant.

Many birds are also able to preen their feathers with a layer of water-resistant oil. They tuck their bills into oil glands located at the base of their tails and then spread the oil on their body with their beaks.

In heavy rain birds will adopt a classic posture with their bodies upright and heads withdrawn with their beaks pointed towards the rain. This position allows them to conserve as much energy as possible as well as minimizing the rain’s contact with their body and allowing raindrops to slide off them. You may also see birds huddled together not only to keep warm but also to prevent rain hitting them.

Some birds will even take baths in the rain, particularly in hot countries where there could be long periods of drought. They will perch in the tops of trees or the ends of branches and splay their tail feathers and wings to take full advantage of the rain falling on them vigorously shaking themselves now and again to remove any excess water. Once the rain has stopped they will preen themselves and dry their feathers in the sun.

Most birds can fly, at least short distances, in the rain using the oil to protect their feathers. However, in particularly heavy rain their wings may eventually get saturated with water making it difficult to fly and leaving them more vulnerable to predators.

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