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How Birds Cope In Winter

Updated on March 22, 2013

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 them.

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

Pileoerection
(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.

Preening 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.

Homoeothermic
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.)

Thermogenesis (Shivering)
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
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.)

Migration
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).

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    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hiya toknowinfo -

      A lot of birds do fly south, but I suppose some of them don't have the wing power. The blue tits, robins and blackbirds stay here and shiver with me. Now, that is a case of 'all in this together'.

      Thanks for dropping by again.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 

      7 years ago

      Wow poor little birds and all they have to do to stay warm. Silly me, I thought, all they had to do was fly south. Thanks for all the info and big words.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      A hadeda idis bird? The name's enough to frighten me. Anyway, it looks like my cat's a bit of a woose; thankfully, we haven't had any trophies yet. However, it might just be that she doesn't yet consider us worthy of such a concession.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Cats, yes. But there would need to be a lot of cats to deal with all the birds, which outnumber the cats quite considerably!

      An aside - when I lived in Johannesburg some years ago we had two cats which used to run for cover whenever a hadeda ibis appeared on the lawn! They were terrified of that bird!

      Thanks again for an interesting Hub.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Tony,

      That's a good point, it never crossed my mind what happens to birds when they die, but my cat might have an idea. In fact, she might even have something to do the birds' death (not the South African ones).

      Thanks for visiting fellow bird-lover, of both kinds.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Great and interesting Hub which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. As a bird-lover (yes - both kinds! LOL!) I have also often wondered about what happens to birds when they die? There are so many around and yet I seem to see dead ones very rarely!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Polly,

      That sounds gruesome. Gummy bears that taste like baby hamsters, and mummy hamsters that gobble them right down. It’s not a perfect world.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 

      7 years ago from US

      Now that is a good one to think about there, that says so much we could never understand, doesn't it? Wonder how many mean things like this there are that are gentle with their babies. Always makes me think of the first hamster I ever had who had a tiny baby fall out of her cage and it looked like a little gummy bear and when I handed it back she gobbled it right down. You can't touch baby hamsters or rabbits.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Polly,

      We should never stop wondering and caring; I suppose that's what makes us human. Mind you, I once watched a program about how caring mother crocodiles are towards their young. I wonder if she ever wonders why, but that’ll keep for a hub about ingratitude towards parents.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 

      7 years ago from US

      I always wondered why these birds didn't just stay where they migrated to. So you aren't the only one to wonder about birds,I wondered about things like that since I could think, I just think it means you care.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Nellieanna,

      Yes, it reminds me of the song, “Count Your Blessings”. (Although I’m not very religious, I get the gist of it.) I’m thankful to have a roof over my head and that so far I haven’t known disaster, natural or otherwise, to bring it down on top of my head.

      It’s funny you mention Texas; that’s another thing I wondered about recently - how often it snows there. So I suppose you’ve answered that one now too.

      It's nice to hear from you. Cheers.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      I've wondered by what means small mammals and birds survive harsh winters. Of course, many birds simply migrate to better climes (even North Texas sees some of them passing us by!) But those which stay (even Norh Texas has some cold-d-d-d weather!) - I've wondered about.

      These ways they cope with it are fascinating.

      I suspect that humans need to better learn to cope with harsh challenges & conditions, whether economic, psychological or physical. It's rather alarming to notice how quickly so many folks panic or go into desperation mode at the first sign of any kind of adversity, even slight! I shudder to think what happens in real disaster situations.

      Thanks for sharing this, amillar!

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Polly,

      I never thought much about birds getting cold until recently either; I must be getting old.

      Creatures that deceive, exploit, are ruthless and parasitic? I'm not sure how that fits in with evolution, but I know some of them are regular churchgoers. (They’re not all cuckoo either.)

      Thanks for dropping by. Happy Hogmanay.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 

      7 years ago from US

      I guess I never gave much thought to birds getting cold, knowing God gave them knowledge individually of what type house to build for their type and need, but the devil even moved in on that one to cause a bird to be able to catch mama bird gone and not only knock one of her eggs out but lay one almost identical to the ones in the nest meaning this evil bird can lay different kinds of eggs to suit her evil purpose and too lazy to care for her own...wonder how that fits into evolution?

      Happy New Year and I look forward to reading you. Polly

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi ya' drbj,

      Research is easy nowadays - we don't even have to go to the library. I just google when a question comes into my head, or if I want a price for something, or to see what's available. What next I wonder?

      Just off to check out these naked mole rats.

      Thanks for dropping by.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      What a nice piece of research, amillar. I learned a lot about our avian friends I did not know before. The snuggling together for warmth is particularly intriguing to me since I found that naked mole rats do that, too, only in burrows under the ground. See "Weird Animals - the Naked Mole Rat" if you're interested. :)

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Micky,

      I don't think we have Cardinals here in the UK. (A few dodgy priests though - apparently).

      I look forward the snow-bird hub; I used to sing a song about a snow-bird, and wondered what it was like. No doubt, I'll soon find out.

      Cheers.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      This is really beautiful! I feed dozens of Cardinals and other birds every day. I wonder how they do it! Even with your explanations- brrrrr! I'll publish a snow-bird hub eventually. God bless!

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR

      amillar 

      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Amanda,

      Yes, well, some humans seem to think they're the ultimate creation. Yet, we're probably just another step along the way; I remember David Attenborough saying, at the end of his series "Life on Earth", (something to the effect) that there is no evidence to suggest that humanity is the end of the evolutionary process. I remember thinking at the time, "Good point".

      Happy New Year, when it comes, by the way.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      7 years ago from UK

      What a great idea for a hub! Birds certainly have some nifty tricks. Shame we can't master a few of them. Might save a fortune on heating bills!

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