I got a call this morning from an old friend, who has done dog rescue for years and recently has branched into chickens and ducks. She and her husband found one of their new ducks dead yesterday morning (sad) and she called to discuss possible causes and any precautions that might be necessary for the health of the rest of the flock.
We ruled out several possibilities, and due to the lack of our typical horrid St. Louis summers, heat stroke was ruled out. But I hear that it is due to get pretty hot this coming week, so I thought a discussion of summer care for birds might be pertinent.
Birds, being covered in downy pajamas all year round, do not sweat or effectively shed body heat in the same way that mammals due (like turning down the thermostat!). All birds, including our chickens, ducks, and for those of us who also take our pet parrots outside, show signs of heat stress in several ways. They can open-mouth pant, much like dogs and cats, which might seem odd to see for the first time. They will spread their wings out away from their body. They might also fluff out their feathers. And they can – and NEED – to seek out shade and water. Both MUST be religiously supplied and checked often to make sure that it is appropriate and available (clean water, sun has not shifted, leaving no shade, etc).
Water is very important to drink and to cool and needs to be checked often to make sure that it has not gotten dirtied, emptied, or too warm. One can use 1 liter soda bottles or smaller and add them to the water bowls to help cool the water, and one can also add ice. Just make sure that the birds do not get a chill; erring on the side of “cool” rather than “ice cold” is wise.
When I had my birds outside, I provided safely and carefully placed fans in their roosting areas. Care needs to be taken to not provide any direct drafts that the animal cannot move away from, and in the sake of some birds, especially chickens, once they settle down for the night on their perches, they are disinclined to shift places. It is especially important to keep drafts off indoor/outdoor parrots, and that includes consideration of proximity to air conditioning vents as well as fans. Other concerns are fire hazard and safety awareness, such as making sure that nothing chews through any electrical cords. Just ask my 29 year old Eclectus hen, Clare, a regular cord chewer!
Freezing gallon milk jugs and providing them in coops and near perches or ground nesting areas are appreciated by ducks and geese and their brethren. They can also be strategically hung for perching birds. I would be grateful but still sometimes surprised when I would find groups of them snuggling round the big ice cubes such as we might around a camp fire. All birds are, after all, social creatures just like us!
Lastly, if you suspect heat stress or illness in your bird, immediately contact your avian or livestock veterinarian. Emergency measures might need to be taken. Keep your emergency vet contact information handy and immediately accessible. And yes, I understand that there can be a vast difference of opinion on animal husbandry between what I will call the “farm-mentality” community and the “pet-mentality” community. There is often no opinion that is right or wrong or better than others, but for those that might not know, many veterinarians now treat unconventional pets such as chickens and ducks and can be a very important link to the health and well being of your animal, as well as the extended welfare of the rest of the flock.
So prepare ahead, know what to look for and how to help, and keep you and your flocks cool!
Dorene Olson, TARA Training and Behavior, LLC
www.doreneolson.com, visit me on Face Book as well
Dorene Olson worked for 11 years at an avian and exotic veterinary practice and has been doing avian rescue, including chickens, ducks, swans, geese and parrots, since 1989. She can be reached for questions or consultation advice through her practice at 314.956.1310.