Little Tern taking a bath

posted in: Feathers-maintenance | 2

Dr Johathan Cheah Weng Kwong was tern-watching in August 2006, making observations on a breeding colony of Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) in the north of Singapore when he took a picture of an adult bathing.

It was a hot day and the bird was in the water splashing its wings about to get the feathers wet. It was obviously bathing. But then it may also be cooling its chicks.

According to Gochfeld & Burger (1996), “Terns not infrequently alight on the water to bathe, but swimming is a remarkably uncommon occurrence among this family of web-footed birds.” During periods of incubation and brooding, the adults counter heat stress by moistening their belly feathers and then return to their nests where the water droplets help cool the eggs or chicks.

Gochfeld, M. & J. Burger, 1996. Family Sternidae (Terns). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.) Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 3. Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 624-667


2 Responses

  1. Practically every afternoon we have sunbirds coming to our house to bathe among my our pitcher plants. This is becos we have set up a sprinkler to go off around mid-day. The sight of the birds frolicking in the wet leaves is really a delight to behold. Unfortunately, I do not have the skill or the equipment to take some nice photos to share with your readers.

  2. Yes, birds regularly take leaf baths after a spell of rain or after you water the garden.


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