Basking tree

The trunk and top branches of the Buckeye tree outside my (somewhat dirty) porch windows are brightly illuminated with the morning sun, making it the perfect place to bask in whatever heat the sunlight can provide on this chilly morning.

A chilly start...

A chilly start…

Early in the morning, I’ve noticed a variety of birds and squirrels using the buckeye as a basking spot.

You don't normally see White-breasted Nuthatches at rest in this posture (head up).  Notice how the bird is plastered right up next to the trunk of the tree with its feathers maximally fluffed.  Is it possible that the tree surface is actually "warm"?

You don’t normally see White-breasted Nuthatches at rest in this posture (head up). Notice how the bird is plastered right up next to the trunk of the tree with its feathers maximally fluffed. Is it possible that the tree surface is actually “warm”? (well, probably warmer than the air…)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers apparently like the buckeye as a basking spot as well.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers apparently like the buckeye as a basking spot as well.  This bird was sitting at rest, not foraging in this spot.

Even the much, much larger-bodied Gray Squirrels enjoy a little basking time on the trunk of the tree when the temperatures dip into the -20 F range.

Even the much larger-bodied Gray Squirrels enjoy a little basking time on the trunk of the tree when the temperatures dip into the -20 F range. Belly and tail are plastered tightly to the trunk of the tree to soak up whatever warmth it can provide.

Usually we associate basking behavior with reptilian thermoregulation — sun-loving turtles and lizards, for example.  Even crocodilians lie around in the sun letting its heat warm them while they digest their latest meal.  But basking becomes important to birds and mammals as a means of economizing on the high metabolic expense of staying warm in extreme cold.

Here's a bird that specializes in basking to warm up on cool mornings.

Here’s a bird that specializes in basking to warm up on cool mornings.

6 thoughts on “Basking tree

  1. I noticed the same activity in my yard early this morning – birds basking in the -15F sun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nuthatch resting head-up though. The cardinals are all sitting on the south side of the Cedar tree, about 15 feet from the safflower feeder. Smart birds!

    • That’s good to know. I’m not the only one seeing this kind of unusual behavior (the basking that is). Yup, smart birds they are — or they would probably be dead birds.

  2. I do the same thing when I’m in the woods. A good sunny spot is a great place to sit and warm up after you’ve been in the shade of the forest for an hour or two. The sun is also throwing a little more warmth these days. I wouldn’t call it heat, but it’s enough to warm you up.

  3. I love the shots of the basking birds. I guess that survival means finding ways to minimize energy expenditure and taking in all the warmth you can find. I noticed that your thermometer registers down to minus 40…I’ll have to check to see if the ones they sell here go down that low. I’m feeling cold imagining what the apparent temperature is there when there is wind.

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