DEAR JOAN: Robins built a bird nest on a ceiling fan on our patio while we were gone. They are doing very well. They tolerate both of us and our dog using the patio door to enter our backyard.
It must be very hot up there. I have seen the adult and one of the babies with their mouths open while sitting very still. Do birds do this to cool their bodies like dogs do?
Fran de Wit
DEAR FRAN: Before I answer your question about birds, I just want to remind everyone that it has been extremely hot of late and high temperatures are continuing, so please make sure your animals are taken care of. Under no circumstances should you leave pets in cars, even with the windows down, even parked in the shade, even for a few minutes. It's just too hot for them.
If they are outdoors, make sure they have access to both water and shade. You can freeze some ice blocks and put them in their water dishes. If your pets are inside, leave the air conditioning on for them and fill the water bowls.
As for the birds, they actually manage quite well in the heat. It varies from species to species, but birds have a higher body temperature than humans and can tolerate the higher heat much better. They also have a few tricks up their wings to help out.
Their bodies are programmed for dissipating heat through the small but significant patches of bare skin on their feet, legs and face. They even can regulate the blood flow in their bills to discharge the buildup of body heat. The bigger the beak, the more heat dissipation ability, which may help to explain why tropical birds usually have very large bills.
Birds don't have sweat glands, but they will pant to help shed the heat. Unlike humans -- including this one who filled and emptied a U-Haul truck a few times during this past weekend's monstrous heat wave -- birds know to slow down during the heat of the day and hang out in shady trees. They take care of their business when the temperatures are cooler in the early morning or early evening.
You may also notice birds that appear to be puffed up. They do this to increase air circulation through their feathers.
Birds of prey have a harder time escaping into shade, but they will soar at higher altitudes, where the air is cooler.
If you want to help out your birds, keep the birdbaths filled. You also can offer additional bathing stations with shallow bowls, 2 inches deep or less. You also can set up misters or sprinklers, which the hummingbirds will love.
Keep those bird feeders full, too. If the birds don't have to hunt far for food, they can chill out in the shade.
More on wasps
I had some interesting feedback on last week's column about yellow jackets. Many writers were confused whether wasps bite or sting.
Yellow jackets do both. Unlike bees, which can only sting once, wasps can sting repeatedly. They also can bite, and because they are carnivorous, their mouths may have a lot of bacteria, which could lead to infections.
I also had a couple of letters explaining why someone might be targeted by more than one wasp. When the first one stings, it releases a pheromone that signals the other wasps to help defend the nest or food source.
Another man wrote to tell of his technique for getting wasps off before they can sting. If you swat at them or brush them away, you may trigger an attack. He gently blows on them and they eventually take off.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at email@example.com.