Do Birds Sunbathe? | Why Do Birds Spread Their Wings On The Ground?

Many Birders have noticed some birds adopt a weird posture in which their feathers are spread and fluffed up in the warm sunlight. This behavior is what is referred to as sunbathing.

What Is Sunning?

No matter how popular sunscreens are, the sun is very important for the body. Not only for humans but for birds as well, it plays a very important role.

Be it your pet bird or a wild bird, they all love sunning. But what is sunning? Sunning is the process of relaxing and letting the sunlight seep into the body. You can see different birds in different positions sunning themselves.

Sometimes, when you think about why the bird is lying in such a strange position in your backyard, it’s enjoying itself.

Numerous species of birds can be seen sunning with their plumage to the sun. It is very important. Birds lie in such positions, exposing their plumage and skin to the sun.

You can see different wild birds like vultures, sparrows, pigeons, anhinga, jays, doves, titmice, cormorants, etc., sunning and relaxing.

They do it in different positions in different areas, e.g., dust baths and open decks in open sunlight without any shadows.

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Do Birds Sunbathe?

Birds spread their wings on the ground to expose their feathers to direct sunlight. They orient themselves to get the maximum amount of sunlight to their plumage.

This behavior or act is called sunbathing, basking, or sunning. 

When sunbathing, the bird held out one or both the wings from the body, stretching them out in the sun.

Many bird species sunbathe, and the most common among them are vultures, darters, cormorants, doves, darters, larks, and robins. 

All of these bird species sunbathe at different times in different ways. They adopt distinct postures to expose the maximum part of their plumage in the sun’s warmth.

They may change different postures during a single sunbathing session to get the most sunlight. 

The common sunbathing postures are:

  • Exposing back to the sun
  • Spreading the tail feathers
  • Stretching wings while lying on the ground 
  • Raising rump and wings toward the sun  
  • Fluffing feathers on the back

Birds usually prefer sunbathing in unobstructed areas where they do not get sunlight in patches.

Typically, they are seen basking in the sunlight on the ground, mulch beds, open decks; or higher on branches of trees, or roofs.

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Why Do Birds Spread Their Wings on The Ground?

Distinct bird species have distinct reasons for sunbathing. There are many theories associated with their sunbathing behavior. Some of the common reasons why birds spread their wings on the ground include:


One of the practical reasons why birds often sunbathe is to get heat or warmth, especially those living in cold regions.

They spread their wings and allow the sun rays to warm themselves. Because it helps them to maintain their body temperature and to survive in cold climates. 

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The birds that sunbathe for warmth include snowy owls, turkey vultures, steller’s eider, etc. Instead of using energy from food, the sunning birds utilize solar radiation to regulate body heat.

This helps them to sustain even in scarcity of food.


Birds that swim in water utilize the sun’s heat to dry their wings and body parts quickly. This helps them to fly easily, without getting weighed down after wetting.

Birds, living in regions that receive heavy rainfall, sunbathe to dry their damp and cold feathers.

Sunning birds such as Mousebirds, swans, loons, coots, gannets, cormorants, pelicans, etc. utilize the sun’s heat for drying their wet feathers and body parts.

Feather Maintenance

Birds use sunbathing in their routine feather maintenance. Sunning helps them to drive parasites out from the feathers because the heat causes the movement of the insects in plumage. Thus, when preening, birds get rid of those parasites.

Preening is a maintenance behavior in which birds remove dirt, insects, and other impurities from the plumage. This keeps their feathers healthy and clean, which helps them with insulation, efficient flight, and to attract mates.

Birds pay utmost attention to looking after their plumage because the plumage of a bird provides insulation and helps in flight. Their routine maintenance involves preening and bathing.   

Conversion of Preen Oil into Vitamin D

Sunning helps birds to spread the preen oil across the feathers and their body. Preen oil is a thick, transparent oil secreted from the uropygial gland present at the base of the Bird’s tail.

The oil is essential for the bird’s health as it performs various functions.

The heat of the sun converts some compounds in preen oil into vitamin D, which helps in keeping birds healthy. Birds that secrete preen oil are budgies, canaries, cockatoos, parrots, and waterfowl. It is, however, absent in pigeons and hyacinth macaws.

Related Read: Do All Birds Have Feathers? Learn Facts About Bird Feathers


It is believed that birds take pleasure in sunbathing and enjoy the heat and warmth of the sun rays falling on their bodies. They sun themselves for relaxation and enjoyment, just like humans do.

They not only take advantage of sunlight but also have the fun of sunbathing. While sunning, birds seem to enjoy being in the same relaxing posture for a long time. Thus, they sunbathe very often.

How To Help Sunning Birds?

Although birds are well aware of how to sunbathe, if wild birds frequently visit your backyard and you have seen them sunbathing, you can help them in the following ways-

  • Notice the birds and check out their favorite places and time to sunbathe. Different birds have different habits. If you have many visitors, notice the sunbathe spots.
  • Birds visit your backyard because there is adequate sunlight, and they also feel safe. Do not prune much vegetation near their spots as the sun changes positions, and it can cast shadows on their spots. Also, do not remove everything and expose the birds. Let some shelter in the place, so birds feel safe.
  • Ensure that no other predators enter your backyard. Cats and dogs find these lying birds very much and are always there to disrupt their peace. It poses a great risk for the birds as they are relaxing and are more vulnerable during these times, lying in the open with their wings spread.
  • Lying in the sun dehydrates a bird’s body and heats it. They need fresh water afterward. You can place some clean water for the birds so they can enjoy the sun and then sip a cool drink.
  • You can let pet birds out of the cage or place the cage in the sun if they are not habitual of roaming in the open.

Why Do Birds Expose Their Plumage To The Sun?

Birds are birds because they can fly with their feathers. These feathers are very important, and birds know it. Thus, they spend a great amount of time taking care of these feathers.

Molting is the process when they shed all their old feathers and grow new ones. But it happens once a year.

Meanwhile, sunning is a process that allows them to maintain their feathers. It helps spread preen oil to their feathers which makes them shiny and beautiful.

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