Heat Stress In Birds

heat stress

What is heat stress?

Heat stress in birds is when a bird's core body temperature is raised uncontrollably to a dangerously high level.  A bird's body temperature is normally between 39-43C/101-109F.  If their temperature rises higher than this, it can quickly become a serious, often life-threatening problem.

Birds are not like us, they do not have sweat glands.  They maintain their temperature through the insulation effect of their feathers and their metabolic processes.  This makes it hard for them to cool down when they overheat.

Signs and symptoms of heat stress in birds:

When birds can't control their temperature and start to become heat stressed, they may display the following symptoms, which you will notice become more serious as the condition progresses:

  • Holding wings out from the body
  • Open beak
  • Panting
  • Disorientated
  • Poor balance
  • Head tilt
  • Uncoordinated movements

Note:  If your bird's symptoms are heading towards the second half of the above list, the situation is definitely life threatening and veterinary assistance is both essential and extremely urgent.

How is heat stress treated?

Firstly, it is important to know that it is dangerous to drop a bird's temperature too quickly.  You can send them into shock, or worse.  So if you think your bird is heat stressed, DO NOT do something stupid like run and dunk them in iced water!

  • Remove the heat stressed bird from the hot environment and take them somewhere with a neutral ambient temperature.
  • If the bird is unable to walk or stand, place the bird on something that will distribute heat.  Ideally a cooling mat should be used.  (Cooling mats are sold at most pet stores.  These are usually canvas and have gel inside them that will absorb heat from an animal and distribute it throughout the mat. This is excellent addition to a first aid kit if you don't have one!)  If you don't have a cooling mat, something like straw bedding will still help.
  • It is advisable to lightly mist a bird with room temperature (not ice) water.  Do not soak the bird. Small amounts of water will evaporate off a bird's skin & feathers (in the same way that sweat evaporates off our skin), helping cool the bird.
  • If the bird is capable of drinking, providing cool water preferably with an electrolyte solution in it, will be of benefit.  There are avian products on the market that you should have in your first aid kit.  Polyaid, spark, quik gel are some of the recommended products.  Make them up with water according to the dosage rates on the respective bottles.  (Click here to access the Burwood Bird & Animal Hospital online store.)  If you have nothing else on hand, a small amount of apple cider vinegar in water may help.
  • Seek veterinary assistance.  A vet is going to be able to provide subcutaneous fluids and electrolyte solutions in a way that you can not do at home.  NOTHING replaces veterinary treatment.  The above steps are to help stabilise your bird only.  Your bird may improve, but that does not necessarily mean they are ok.  Depending on the degree of heat stress, these steps may not be enough to save your bird's life.  Get professional help.


Bathing Galah

Heat stress in birds - things you should know!

  • If the ambient temperature is above 30C/86F a bird is starting to struggle with the temperature.
  • Dark coloured birds are more at risk of heat stress.  Darker colours absorb more UV, meaning anything dark, gets hotter, faster.  Black chickens in particular do NOT cope with too much sunlight.
  • Fat birds are more susceptible to heat stress.  For example, broiler chickens are more at risk.
  • Birds with pre-existing conditions (particularly heart conditions) are at higher risk of heat stress.
  • Older birds are more prone to heat stress, than their younger, fitter counterparts.
  • Most birds won't drink warm water.  Birds will drink less in severe heat.  You may need to freeze waterbowls and serve foods with higher water content (such as grapes).
  • Travelling with birds in above 30C/86F temperatures carries an increased risk.  Certain carriers (the plastic or backpack ones in particular) can have drastic temperature increases when exposed to the sun.  Check any carrier that you use has excellent air flow.  If in doubt don't use it.

Preventing heat stress in birds

Prevention is always better than a cure.  So taking some simple steps to safeguard your birds is wise.

Insulate your aviaries and your hen houses.  Those metal aviaries and hen houses that you can buy cheaply at the average hardware store?  They're basically ovens in hot weather.  In direct sunlight, the metal becomes red hot to touch and can actually burn your birds.  The lack of air flow inside them?  It's an oven.

Insulating an aviary or hen house is not as difficult as you might think.  There's this wonderful insulation product called foil board.  It's basically polystyrene sheets with aluminum foil on them.  Easy to cut.  Light.  Easy to stick to surfaces with a double-sided insulation tape.  (Not normal tape, you want a tape that copes with heat.)  Note you don't want your birds to have access to the foil board (they will eat it).  You may need to cover it with something lightweight (I use korflute), or install it on the outside of your aviary.  I used it to insulate the metal roof of my birdroom.  On really hot days it makes a 15C difference in temperature.

Misting systems are a wonderful invention and there are a couple of ways that you can use them.  You can use them so the birds can go in them to cool off.  You can use them on the roof of an aviary to drop the temperature of the metal.  You can hang them in a tree for wild birds to get to. You can hang a lightweight fabric sheet off the side of your aviary and use them to keep it wet so that air blowing through is cooler.

Shade is your bird's best friend.  You can buy shade cloth blinds and hang them off the side of an aviary.  Secure them over the roof of your chicken run, put them over the window of your house.  You get the idea.

Air flow always helps reduce the risk of heat stress.  You can buy some amazing bladeless fans and air filters these days.  Portable air conditioners are great if you can vent the heat.

In a nutshell, consider your setup and how you can heat proof it.  Ensure your first aid kit is well-equipped.  Have a plan for hot days.  If all else fails, be prepared to evacuate your birds somewhere cooler.

Drinking Magpie

Don't forget that wild birds, animals and even insects can suffer in the heat too.

Whenever possible, place water bowls outside for wildlife.  Deeper (non-metal) bowls will be slower to warm up.  Place bowls in a shady area, away from predators.  Include some small twigs and rocks so that smaller animals and insects can get out if they fall in.


Credit for King Parrot Photo: Leigh Sayers  (Thanks Leigh!)  All other photos copyright Mel Vincent.


  1. Angela Wells on January 13, 2023 at 7:43 am

    Thank you that was so helpful and I shall do what is recommended I do spray them when it’s above 33 briefly too try and relieve Stress 🌺

  2. Louise Andrews on January 13, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    Very well written, full of usefull information

Leave a Comment