Why Do Birds Sunbathe?

Sunbathing Dunnock

During hot weather it is not uncommon to see birds lying on the ground sunbathing. They will fluff up their feathers and spread either one or both wings out from their body. Or they may stand with their back to the sun with their wings drooped and tail spread. They may stay in one position for some time or adopt different positions to expose different parts of their bodies to the sun.

Sunbathing doesn’t help birds top up their tans: neither does it help them cool down as some people think. Lying out in the open sunshine with as much as their body exposed as possible would have the opposite effect. 

What lying in the sun does do is help with feather maintenance known as preening. Preening keeps feathers in good condition, which helps with insulation and keeping them warm, efficient flight and attracting a mate.

Preen oil is secreted from a gland near the base of the tail and keeps feathers moisturised, flexible and strong so they do not break in flight. The heat from the sun will help spread the preen oil around the bird’s body and along its feathers.

Sunbathing also helps get rid of any lice or parasites that may be living on the bird’s plumage which can carry disease or even destroy feathers. The heat dislodges the parasites, so they can be more easily removed by the bird.

Some people mistakenly believe that a bird sunning itself may be sick or injured but this is unlikely to be the case. If you do see a bird sunbathing do not disturb it as it is trying to stay as healthy as possible. It is also thought that some birds may sunbathe simply for pleasure and to enjoy the heat of the sun on their bodies.


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