Hot Chicks
Written by Calliope Pappadakis   
Sunday, 07 August 2011 16:25

Pretty Girl and GrassThe chicks spent their 2nd night outside in the coop last night amidst the torrential downpour that came our way. We needed rain and the coop held up just fine other than some minor leaks in the nesting boxes. The chicks were waiting, eager for worms and fresh grass early this morning when I went out. They are crazy for grass - almost more than the worms!

I went out for an afternoon visit once the sun came out and took a break from my studies. I was alarmed when I opened the coop and all 13 chicks were panting and their wings were hanging low. I ran inside and cleaned and filled their waterer with cold water and opened the main door of the coop and even the nesting box to allow air flow. I grabbed the thermometer leftover from incubation, and set it up in the coop and it was around 94 inside. The temperature lowered to about 88 within a few minutes... but the sun also went behind some storm clouds. I was concerned, so I looked up "why do chickens pant" and this is what I found:

Do Birds Sweat?

Birds don't sweat but they have other ways of cooling off when they get too hot.

Do birds sweat? Birds’ normal body temperature is higher than ours, so they don’t need to shed heat as soon, but they can get warm inside their thick layer of feathers. Birds don’t have sweat glands so they don’t sweat, but they have a few other ways to keep cool on hot days and get rid of excess body heat:

* Birds pant to expel body heat – they breath very quickly, letting the cooler air passing through the lungs and air sacs carry heat away from the body. A bird standing with its mouth open on a hot day is probably panting. The structure of a bird’s lungs allows the air to pass through in only one direction so it doesn’t mix with air that is already in the lungs. This means a greater cooling capacity as well as higher oxygen levels.
* Birds flutter the throat when they’re hot, flexing the hyoid bone. This area has a generous blood supply and thus can give off a lot of heat.
* Birds can elevate their feathers and hold their wings out a bit for air circulation.
* Bird’s legs are not covered with feathers and significant heat is lost through the legs and feet. Some species moisten and cool their legs by allowing liquid waste to run down them. Others cool their legs and feet by spreading their wings to provide shade. They may lift their feet off the ground to cool them as well.
* Birds turn their backs, or white parts, toward the sun so that their feathers will reflect the sunlight.
* Some birds wet their feathers or splash water on themselves for cooling. Others deliberately dampen their nests or the ground around them.
* Some birds have bald patches that allow heat to escape through the skin.
* To avoid overheating when it is very hot, many birds will rest in the shade during the heat of the day and be more active in the early morning and evening.

Small birds have a high surface-to-volume ratio and are susceptible to heat loss, so staying warm is more of a problem for them than cooling off. This is why very small birds, such as some hummingbirds, must consume a lot of high energy food and don’t do well in cooler climates. (Drisdelle 2007)

So it seems my chicks were doing what they were supposed to be doing - allowing cooler air to pass through the lungs and remove the heat from their bodies. Their throats were definitely fluttering - flexing that good old hyoid bone! They, too, had let out their wings for air circulation. No need to worry - their natural systems were doing a good job of cooling them off. They liked the fresh grass clippings I threw in the coop, too.

As I sat there on my stool and watched them scurry around, clicking their little beaks as they gobbled up the grass clippings, I began to wonder about something. I've seen chicks poop A LOT, but I've never actually seen them urinate. If I had to guess, it all comes out of the same place... but that's just a wild guess. So I decided to look that up, too. And here's what I found: birds defecate and urinate all at once! The white stuff in their poop is actually their pee.  Well, technically it's not pee; it's urea. The liquid waste is combined with the solids in the cloaca ("vent"). No pee breaks for birds - they multi-task and get it done all at once.

Check out this video of the chicks at 5 1/2 weeks on Day 2 of their new life in the coop! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bTVlpQtPRo