How Birds Cope In Winter
Please, no blue tit jokes.
Birds need food in winter
I’ve been wondering how the birds cope with the freezing winter weather
we've had recently. There they are - every morning, having survived
another night of temperatures 16-18° below. Even the crows get my
respect. They can’t help being ugly, and I suppose their Mums love
So I thought I’ll do some googling, and it seems that birds have a few nifty tricks to help them deal with the cold:
A Robin Feeding
(Sounds like something middle aged men get.) They puff their feathers up and create large pockets of warm air. It’s the same principle when we humans get goose bumps; the hair on our arm sticks out perpendicular to the skin. Human hair isn’t much good for making warm pockets of air, but I suppose you could buy a warm fleece - made in China, of course.
keeps their feathers in optimum condition, and they secrete a waxy oil
from their uropygial gland (preen gland), which, amongst other things,
coats and helps to insulate their feathers in winter.
Birds, like we mammals, are warm-blooded (Homoeothermic). Food, which their bodies turn into energy, helps them to survive the freezing temperatures. May the force be with them. (Feed the birds.)
When birds shiver, they can produce heat five times their basal norm, but they need food to give them the energy to shiver. However, to avoid energy loss due to shivering, some birds can go into torpor to withstand extreme conditions. It’s like a temporary state of hibernation, which slows their metabolism, saves energy, and helps get them through the night.
Hypothermia in birds means they can lower their temperature and metabolism, to keep oxygen in the blood, and conserve energy.
Huddling and Shelter
Some birds will huddle together, or on top of one another (no trumpin’, please), while others can build, or find warm shelter for themselves.
‘Counter Current Heat Exchange’
Counter current heat exchange is a central heating system for birds. A network of arterial blood vessels, charged with oxygen, nutrients and warmth from the body, run parallel to a counter network of blood vessels bringing depleted blood back via the veins. This keeps the blood temperature up, and stops the birds’ feet from freezing. (I wish I could do that.)
Of course, some birds fly off to warmer climes. (I wish I could do that. You pay £5 for airfares these days, and £100 to use the cludgie.)
So there you have it.
It's marvellous what we learn by googling (or whatever).
Don't forget to feed the birds. I'll leave the list of the sources (urls) I found. You can check them out, (see below).
Some sites to check out
- Feather Care
function and importance of feathers, feather maintenance and preening, worn and lost feathers, feather replacement and molt.
- Backyard Bird Center: Articles: How Do Birds Survive Winter?
Bird Watcher's Paradise. Full line of back yard bird watching supplies; feeders, seed, binoculars, baths and advice.
- The RSPB: Advice: How do birds survive cold winter nights?
- How do Birds Stay Warm in the Winter?