From exhaustion to asphalt burns, Minnesota’s birds feel the heat

American Kestrel
An American Kestrel. While birds in some parts of the country likely have it worse, the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center has seen plenty of heat problems, including a pair of American kestrels with burns from asphalt.
Carrol Henderson | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Wildlife conservation groups across the country have expressed concerns about how this summer’s heat waves are affecting bird populations.

Dr. Victoria Hall, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, on Wednesday told host Cathy Wurzer that the impact on birds of prey in Minnesota has been less severe than in the Pacific Northwest, where wildlife hospitals have seen huge increases in sick or injured birds due to the heat. 

One example of a heat injury the Raptor Center assisted with this summer: Two young American kestrels that left the nest early suffered burns on asphalt and needed help recuperating, Hall said.

"We were able to heal up their burns, help teach them how to be ferocious little falcons in the wild and already get them back out there,” she said. 

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Among Minnesota’s bird population, Hall said, the effects of recent extreme weather have been more indirect but wide-reaching. “We are seeing changes to things like food supply for these birds,” she said. With insect populations lower this year, the bird population’s food chain is under strain. “When you put pressure on one part of an ecosystem, it’s going to change others.”

To beat the heat, Hall says you might see more birds splashing around in bird baths or taking cover during the hottest part of the day. You might even see them panting to cool off. To Minnesotans who want to help their backyard wildlife survive the drought, Hall suggests leaving out a shallow container of water with some rocks in the bottom.

Hall says there’s more work ahead as the Raptor Center continues to assess how extreme weather impacts local bird populations’ diets and habitats. “With climate change,” she said, “we’re seeing things change faster than animals can adapt.” 

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.