Keeping cool, stork-style

Migrating white storks in the Beit She'an Valley wet the straw in their nests with water to cool it for their chicks.

baby stork 88 (photo credit: )
baby stork 88
(photo credit: )
Humans are not the only ones suffering from the current heat wave: Migrating white storks in the broiling-hot Beit She'an Valley have shown their ingenuity by wetting the straw in their nests with water to cool it for their chicks. It is the first time this has been observed in birds, according to ornithologists from Tel Aviv University's International Center for the Study of Bird Migration and the Society for the Protection of Nature. For the last month they have been observing a pair of stork chicks that hatched in the first nest at Kibbutz Tirat Zvi. Almost two months ago the parents were the first to successfully breed in the Beit She'an Valley, and as far as the researchers know, are the most southerly pair of the white stork population nesting north and east of the Mediterranean. During the present heat wave, they have been tracking the birds with concern, since the high temperatures in the area have reached 45 in the shade and 60 in the sun. Such high temperatures could cause the chicks to dehydrate. But the ornithologists were relieved to see that during the midday heat, the male is punctilious about bringing water in his bill and giving the chicks a drink, as well as sprinkling them to lower their body temperature. This is familiar behavior in birds as a method for dealing with high temperatures. But photographer Ronen Vaturi, who is documenting the storks' nest, discovered to his surprise that in addition to the sprinkling of water during the intense heat, every quarter of an hour the male brings a bunch of straw in his bill and places it next to the chicks. After further observations, Ronen discovered that after the male collected the straw in his bill, he dipped and soaked it in an adjacent puddle of water before returning to the nest. "This is a newly observed phenomenon, previously unknown in the bird world," center director Dr. Yossi Leshem said. It would seem that the intense heat caused them to act creatively rather than to behave in a "bird-brained" manner, he added.