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Questions my Grandkids asked me: Why do birds spread their wings when they stand?

Updated on May 18, 2020
Johan Smulders profile image

Nature enthusiast and amateur photographer.Travelled extensively in Southern Africa and the USA.

White -breasted Cormorant-- Nahoon Reef
White -breasted Cormorant-- Nahoon Reef | Source
Vulture-Kruger Park
Vulture-Kruger Park | Source
Darter - Kruger Park (Slang Voel -Snake bird)
Darter - Kruger Park (Slang Voel -Snake bird) | Source
Marabou Storks - Kruger Park
Marabou Storks - Kruger Park | Source
Reddish Egret? - Florida
Reddish Egret? - Florida | Source

Questions my Grandkids ask-No 2

. Why do the birds stand with their wings open?

Birds are amazing to watch and we have often seen the Cormorants in East London standing with their wings open and presumed that what they were doing was drying them. So our answer to the Grandkids question was, “they are drying their wings”. With access to National Geographic and Animal Planet now days, be careful what you say. They may just answer, “no Grandpa that’s not why!”

On a trip to the Kruger National Park we camped at the Punda Maria Camp near the border with Zimbabwe and it was interesting to note that the Marabou Storks also stood with their wings open. As they were obviously not drying themselves it was time to do some research.

According to my resources (Roberts’ Birds of South Africa) the Cormorants stand with their wings open to keep themselves warm on a cold day and to warm the food in their belly to assist with digestion. The Marabou Storks on cool mornings also turn their backs to the sun and open their wings to warm up. The Black Heron and other birds that feed in shallow water often form umbrellas with their wings. According to Roberts the reason they do this is still open to debate. It is possible that they form a shadow so that they can see into the water better. Another theory is that fish will come to hide in this “protected” area, and then become easy prey. We certainly don’t have all the answers yet, but birds and their behaviour continues to be a fascinating area for research. Meanwhile we are really pleased that the kids are looking, asking and learning!

Reference: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa 7th Edition 2005


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