Birds sunbathe too – not all species, but many do.

It is thought that sunbathing is part of a bird’s feather maintenance programme. Keeping feathers in good condition is essential to flight. In addition to simply enjoying the warmth of the sun, the heat might help spread preening oils in the feathers. Another possible reason for sunbathing is that the warmth may dislodge parasites.


I noticed this Collared Sunbird lying down in the sun among the leaves of a Tree Fuchsia (Halleria lucida) one morning when I was hanging out the washing. Initially I thought it might be ill, and I retreated to watch it from a distance and I took a few photos. It was so relaxed and the way it kept adjusting its posture it became evident it was enjoying the warmth. After it looked in my direction a little warily, I went indoors and left it to enjoy the sun in peace 

Sunbathing birds can adopt rather strange postures so that they can appear to be sick or injured. The large Hadeda ibis is an obvious presence in our garden and they are frequent sunbathers. When sunbathing they often rest on one wing that is partially open so that it looks almost broken, with the bird leaning heavily to one side, sometimes managing to look faintly ridiculous.

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This Hadeda is sunbathing near our garden pond. It is leaning over, resting on its left wing

Even usually tame individuals seem to feel vulnerable when sunbathing and so they are very wary. All of these photos of sunbathing Hadedas were taken clandestinely through windows. Their reluctance to be observed when sunbathing may also be because they know they look slightly silly?

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This Hadeda, wisely, kept straightening up from leaning on a wing to check on its surroundings. I sneaked this photo through an open window

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This picture was taken at some distance of a group of Hadedas sunbathing and preening in a corner of the garden. The one on the left is indulging in an extreme form of leaning on its right wing. It held this awkward posture for several minutes as it soaked up the sun on its back

I quite often see sunbathing birds in pairs or small groups. Perhaps there is safety in numbers with extra pairs of eyes keeping watch.  Birds lying on the ground are even more vulnerable to predators than usual.

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A pair of Redeyed Doves enjoying the sun. They spent quite some time sunbathing and preening, perhaps demonstrating that the warmth of the sun does soften preening oils in the feathers

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have mentioned in another post the pair of Laughing Doves that have become used to our presence. The other day I was out in the garden with the camera and I saw the two doves settled down on a patch of lawn together. I sat down some distance away to watch them and they seemed to be totally relaxed in my presence.

Both were lying down and the one was preening. After a while they moved closer together and then both spread their wings in the sun. I sat quietly by, taking a few photos. Although the birds seemed unperturbed by my presence, I find that sometimes it is best not to use the viewfinder as pointing a camera at animals in this fashion can seem to be threatening. In this case I held the camera down low and used the flip out LCD screen to compose the shot.


Our resident pair of Laughing Doves sunning themselves in our garden despite the fact that I was sitting nearby. This pair seem to do everything together and in close proximity

When I see birds so relaxed in our garden, I am so pleased we made the decision to make a fenced-in garden for our cats – such a good compromise for cats and for birds. For more on cats and the wildlife garden, see here.


I thought I’d include this photo of the pair of Laughing Doves enjoying their post-sunbathing preening session together. Like all pigeons and doves, they pair-bond for life. I think we are inclined to dismiss the feelings of birds and animals and overlook the closeness of their familial relationships

 Posted by Carol