Swiss bird center saves hundreds of winged victims from extreme heat

Sparrows and swifts have arrived in droves at a Swiss center treating distressed birds after soaring temperatures caused them to dehydrate, with chicks even leaping from their nests in a desperate attempt to evade the blistering heat.

The Centre Ornithologique de Réadaptation on the outskirts of Geneva admitted around 30 birds a day, many with heat-related ailments, when temperatures soared past 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) this month.

With extreme temperatures expected to persist because of climate change, ornithologist Patrick Jacot, who founded the non-profit organization in 1975, anticipates no respite.

“This is not an issue we had before,” he said, referring to the scores of birds adversely affected by the heat.

Birds that nest in hollow places, in anything from eaves to mail-boxes, are particularly vulnerable. Their nesting grounds — sometimes metallic — overheat, causing hatchlings to jump in dramatic and sometimes lethal fashion.

“Birds will jump out on their own when they are not at all olde-nough to leave the nest,” said biologist Fanny Gonzalez, a specialist in biodiversity conservation who works at the center.

“They will fall a few meters, end up on the equally hot asphalt and be completely helpless there.”

At the center, which has admitted more than 1,660 birds this year, a group of hatchling sparrows that were found on the ground begged for food, their beaks wide open and their pinkish bodies quivering.

Out of their nests, birds like these can be attacked or eaten by other species, struck by vehicles, or burned by the hot asphalt.

The goal of the center, which admitted more than 2,400 birds in 2022, is to heal the birds enough for them to live a normal life in the wild.

Jacot said extreme heat has impacted food sources, turning birds’ search for sustenance into a life-threatening ordeal.

“They are weak, and in some cases dehydrated,” said Jacot, who recommends people leave shallow dishes of water in their gardens for the birds.

“They need to clean themselves, but also to drink.”

High temperatures have also had indirect consequences, includ-ing making birds more at risk of bathing in or drinking bacteria-infested water. Their migration patterns have also been disrupted.

“There are so many negative elements that pile up, and it really becomes pretty catastrophic,” Jacot said.

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