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Sunning

Birds in various climates and all around the world indulge in sunning. This can be anything from simply standing with their backs to the sun with their feathers rustled up to expose the skin below, to a full sunbathing posture with wings and tail feathers spread out to maximize the area open to the sun. Some birds such as pigeons will be on one side and raise a wing to the sun. Whatever the exact action, like 'smoke bathing' the causes, or benefits to the bird are a matter of supposition. Obviously, in many cases the birds get warmth from the sun which reduces the amount of metabolic energy they have to expend in order to maintain a constant body temperature of around 40 degrees C. 

However, some birds sunbathe in temperatures which are quite hot, in such circumstances sunbathing appears to leave them over-heated as they can be seen panting. Therefore, some scientists have theorized that the sun's warmth is important in helping dislodge feather parasites, or that the ultra-violet in sunlight helps turn some precursor molecule in the preening oil into vitamin D and that the bird's need this vitamin. It is known that these precursor molecules exist in preening oil and that ultra-violet light will stimulate the conversion into vitamin D. What is not known is how well this happens on the bird's body and how important the amount of vitamin D created would be to the bird.

A Note on Precursor Molecules

Complex molecules such as vitamins are built up from various components and normally have a set pathway of changes they go through before becoming the final product. This final product can later be a step on route to another molecule. In this way our bodies build components out of a mechano-like set of basic units. A precursor molecule is one which is only one or two steps from a given end product.

The information on this page was contributed by EarthLife.

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