Outdoors Column: Heat Stress

A couple of weeks ago, when it was so incredibly hot, I noticed people seemed to be more stressed than usual.  I know I was.  Not being able to enjoy fishing for several days is enough to stress out anyone.  People who are not normally grouchy are just a bit more testy than usual.  People who are normally unpleasant and grouchy are meaner than a biting sow.  This made me wonder about the wildlife.  If people are stressed out and are able to occasionally get relief from the heat, how bad is it for the animals that can not get relief at all?  I can imagine a family of raccoons, one mother and three half grown pups spending a hundred degree day in a hollow tree.  It would be like spending a hot day in a car with teenagers.  I know about being in a hot car with teenagers.  We used to call it vacation.  It was not a pretty sight.  There was never a better time than when we got air conditioning.

The raccoons are spending their daylight hours with the mother snarling at the youngsters while they harass each other.  If they could talk, it would not be “Are we there yet?” and “He’s touching me.” but rather, “Is it dark yet?” and “He’s touching me.”  I do not imagine wildlife enjoy the extreme weather any more than do we.  A friend was telling me yesterday about watching a squirrel.  It found a shady spot under a tree, dug a shallow depression, and plopped down spread eagle over the fresh dirt.  It just laid there, soaking up the minimal amount of coolness that could be obtained from the newly turned soil.  It was just too hot to move any more.

My wife has a bird bath in one of her flower beds.  It is mostly ornamental and we rarely think about actually putting water in it.  The other evening, while watering her flowers, she decided to fill it up.  Within minutes, birds appeared from nowhere, waiting in line to take a bath.  When it is hot and dry, I would imagine the birds have to travel a fair distance to get a drink.  This can cause a lot of stress on them that can be avoided with a small amount of water left for them to use.  The next morning while drinking coffee on the patio, I could see water splashing out of the bird bath.  A couple of robins were enjoying the water before the rest of the birds in the neighborhood arrived.

Most of us think about how weather affects animals during the brutal cold days of winter but think only of ourselves during the extreme heat of summer.  As we enjoy a brief respite from the elements, I have found the wildlife in the area also needs a break.  We do not feed the birds for most of the summer but it does not hurt to fill the bird feeders occasionally so they do not have to travel so far to find food.  A bird bath or even a dish of water set in the shade will be used by all the birds in the area.  It will not be long before those grouchy ones among us, both people and animals will be complaining about the cold weather.  In the periods, whether it is the extremes of heat or cold, we all need to be a bit kinder to each other and to the wildlife that could use a helping hand.  These times will pass.