Birds struggle with triple-digit heat in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For humans, the triple-digit heat is already brutal, but for small animals like birds – who cannot go inside to cool off – it can be deadly.

With its plentiful fountains and trees offering shade, the University of New Mexico Main Campus has been a refuge for wildlife. It is also where scientists house a collection of local birds and study the various threats they may face.

UNM Professor of Biology, Blair Wolf, said lately, this heat is one of them.

“Chronic heat really stresses birds and other wildlife, right, because they’ve got to cope with that environment every day, 24 hours a day,” he said.

He went on to explain that similar to how humans sweat, birds lose water through panting when they are hot. Every day they must replenish what they lose, which can be difficult or even impossible without proper access to water and shade.

“This leads to increasing stress and water loss,” he said. “I’ve had some recent events even at my house where some birds and nest boxes have died. The nestlings have died, some Purple Martins and Black Phoebes died just from the heat stress of the last couple of weeks here in Mimbres, New Mexico.”

If temperatures continue to rise, Wolf said researchers in Australia have already seen how a combo of extreme heat and drought conditions plays out.

“They have wildfires and droughts and very, very high air temperatures, and so they’ve had these mass die-offs in the past of birds,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is, you know, more persistent heat. The chronic heat we’re seeing, if you look at Phoenix, they just had 18 days above 110.”

Wolf said there are ways community members can help birds beat the heat in urban areas, like leaving water outside or providing shade.

“The best thing we can do is take climate change seriously and really work towards reducing our carbon emissions, our carbon footprint,” he said.