7 Ingenious Ways Birds Stay Warm

Female Cardinal braving the cold and snow.
Female Cardinal braving the cold and snow.

Have You Ever Wondered How Our Little Backyard Birds Stay Warm?

My winter backyard bird gang consists of nuthatches, blue jays, juncos, hairy, downy and yellow-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, gold and green finches. They are most active at the feeders just before a rain or snowstorm is due to hit. In fact, they are so accurate I can tell what the next 24 to 48 hours holds weatherwise if I observe the action at the bird feeders!

How do backyard birds stay warm in stormy cold weather? With Mother Nature’s help, these ingenious and resourceful visitors have devised 7+ different ways to do just that.

  • They build up a fatty layer for extra protection against heat loss in colder months. That’s why I provide them with suet cakes once the weather turns cold. That way they can store up a valuable heat source. Adding suet feeders will definitely provide insurance against the coldest weather.
  • Did you know that birds grow more feathers in the fall to provide extra insulation? It’s just like a dog acquiring its winter coat to help ward off the cold. Also, birds’ feathers are coated with a natural oil, which makes them waterproof and helps to retain precious heat.

Birdhouse in Winter
Birdhouse in Winter

I like to keep my birdhouses up all year long so that on the coldest nights my birds can huddle together in the bird houses for warmth. Roosting boxes are more efficient than bird houses for this purpose because the hole is located at the bottom of the box. That way, since heat rises, the birds’ body heat does not escape and thus they stay warmer

Tree Sparrow in snowstorm.
Tree Sparrow in snowstorm.

If you see one of your backyard birds shivering, you might have the tendency to feel sorry for it. But shivering is just another way to produce heat. That motion increases their metabolism, which generates a short burst of heat. Ingenious, aren’t they!

Junco fluffed up to create air pockets for warmth
Junco fluffed up to create air pockets for warmth

I’m sure you’ve noticed birds fluffing their feathers. Well, they do this in order to create air pockets, which also serve to hold in the heat. If you’ve ever seen a little plumped up chickadee sitting on the snow, that’s what it’s doing.

He's got his back to the sun to absorb the warmth!
He's got his back to the sun to absorb the warmth!

When it’s sunny, little birds use the sunshine just as we do. It feels so good to have the sun on your back, doesn’t it? It seems to warm you right to your core. Birds position their backs towards the sun for maximum heat absorption. They will also spread their wings and tails to create a larger surface, which in turn will maximize the heat retention.

Dark Eyed Junco standing on one foot, and warming the other under his chest feathers.
Dark Eyed Junco standing on one foot, and warming the other under his chest feathers.

Over millennia birds have evolved specialized scales on their legs and feet to minimize heat loss. They can also constrict blood flow to those extremities to accomplish the same thing. Still another way to keep legs and feet warm is to tuck them up under their chest feathers one at a time. I’ve seen my chickadees do that many times in the winter.

A bird’s body temperature averages 105 degrees. So they start out warmer than a human, which is also helpful when the winter storms are howling outside.

Next time there’s a blizzard, be happy you have a nice warm house with a furnace. And also be happy you’re not a bird! But don’t feel sorry for them. They have adapted in their own ways with the most efficiency for staying warm even on the coldest days.

Very Best Easy Peanut Butter Bird Treat

  • Prep. Time: 5 min.
  • Cooking Time: 15 min.
  • Total Time: 20 min.


  • ½ c. crunchy or smooth peanut butter
  • ½ c. shortening
  • ½ c. flour
  • 1-½ c. cornmeal
  • ½ c. cracked corn
  • ½ c. black oil sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. raisins or currants
  • ¼ c. dried apricots, apples or cherries

Clean plastic containers for molds. I use yogurt cups, but any small plastic container will do just fine.


In a saucepan over low heat, melt peanut butter and shortening. Stir in cornmeal and flour until combined. Add cracked corn and sunflower seeds. Remove from heat and mix in raisins, currants, and dried fruit.

Transfer to plastic cups and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight and serve to your hungry, grateful birds! These treats can be added to tray or fly-through feeders, or placed on a flat surface so the birds can nibble at their leisure!

This recipe was inspired by Laura Klappenbach’s ‘Simply Nutty Bird Treat’ at About.com Guide

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Comments 8 comments

Apostle Jack profile image

Apostle Jack 5 years ago from Atlanta Ga

You did it well.I love to learn everything there isto know about nature.

grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Thanks Apostle Jack. I was very lucky that my Grandfather knew a lot about wildlife and taught me well. I have mostly lived in rural and wooded areas. Lots of chances to study and observe all kinds of wild critters. But my special favorites are the beautiful birds with their songs and colors. They make me smile. Thanks for stopping by.

Brian Burton profile image

Brian Burton 5 years ago

Great article grandampearl. Lots of info here and fun to read. I have wondered how they stay warm considering the small size.

grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi Brian! Thanks for stopping by, and for your encouraging comments. I was thinking about the little birds a few days ago when our temperatures dipped to 2 degrees above zero! Today it is much warmer and they are back at the feeders, happy and very active. Nature is amazing for sure.

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cr00059n 5 years ago

Oh my, I never new that birds developed an extra layer of insulation during cold months. This is so interesting, that it will stick in my memory every winter. Really:) Bird houses are for such a great cause. I've put links on my hubs to show the benefits of keeping them. Thanks for a great hub, voted up for useful and interesting content. Keep it up GrandmaPearl.

grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

cr0059n Thank you! Your comments are very encouraging and I appreciate them a lot. Thanks also for the vote. You are right, birdhouses are surefire ways to help birds survive. They provide protection not only from weather, but from potential predators like hawks. I am so glad you stopped by!

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 5 years ago from USA

I have noticed that birds are still around in the winter, and wondered if they just forgot to migrate! It is good to know that they have developed ways of keeping warm.

grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi Millionaire Tips, Birds are amazing creatures for sure. All these adaptations over time have served them well. I'm not sure why particular birds were selected to brave northern climates in winter and others were selected to migrate southward until spring. I'll have to look into that! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Very much appreciated.

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