Winter is always the season of intense cold for human beings and animals. It is challenging to stay warm all through the season. Considering how human beings strive to keep warm, have you imagined how birds stay warm, especially delicate ones like titmice and chickadees?
The winter is always a season of epic journey and migration to the northern region for most birds searching for a warmer climate to settle in and survive. Other birds that decide to maintain their territory and bypass the dangers of migration have to battle with the snowstorms and extreme colds.
Features That Help Birds Stay Warm
Birds have many physical features to help them survive the dreadful winter season. These features include; feathers, scally legs and feet, and fat reserves. As human beings, birds are warm-blooded, which means that their body maintains a steady temperature always about 100 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
They Shiver To Keep Warm
Birds shiver  during freezing weather just like us to keep warm, but they are not too fragile and helpless because they have some tricky ways to keep themselves warm. when birds Shiver, they burn more energy than us and have a much higher metabolic rate. Larger birds keep warm more than smaller birds because their bodies retain more heat than smaller birds.
During winter, birds prepare themselves by gathering enough food to eat more and accumulate more fat. Natural foods are rare during the winter, so birds store foods enough to survive when drought comes. Foods like peanut, corn, suet, and black oil sunflower seed help improve their body weight, especially for smaller birds like chickadees who weigh less than other birds.
Birds usually shiver all night and burnout most of its fat to keep warm at night, so birds need to replenish to gain more energy and store fats. Black-capped Chickadee can remember more than a hundred places and the exact spot where they store food and quickly return and help themselves later.
Woodpeckers can be well fed during the winter all through the winter season. They use their beak to make holes in the trees in search of insect larvae or hibernating ants.
Unique Fur Or Feathers
Feathers are not just for bird’s beauty; instead, they are the main ways birds keep warm. Like your jacket, feathers are beneficial insulation that keeps the bird very warm during harsh weather.
Birds fluff their feathers to minimize heat loss and trap heat. The more the bird can trap air in their feather, the warmer they will become. Above the bird’s tail, the oil gland provides another insulation that serves as waterproof that keeps them from getting wet by rain or water. Some birds grow more feather during the autumn to give them additional protection during winter and avoid hypothermia.
Birds like other animals and human being’s feet are more susceptible to cold. Birds’ legs are protected in scales to reduce heat loss. Birds warm their feet by burying them in their feathers. Birds with longer legs, such as gulls, swans, duck, etc., usually keep their feet warm by sitting down or standing on one leg.
Long-legged birds hide their legs to ensure that the blood flows through their legs are isolated and not distributed all over the body.
Waterbirds use a mechanism known as a countercurrent heat exchange to chill the warm blood moving to their feet so that they won’t lose much heat to the cold water. Countercurrent is also why water birds can stand on cold water for a long time without the frozen transfer to their innermost bodies.
Gathering In Packs
Like human beings cuddle to keep warm when the weather is cold, birds also depend on each other to stay warm by snuggling. During winter, some birds like bluebirds, titmice, chickadees, etc. will gather in packs and crowd together in vines, evergreen trees leaving little or no space between them to share body heat and keep warm.
It is very much more comfortable for birds to stay warm when they roast in tighter areas to share warmth.
Take Advantage Of The Sun
Many birds also take advantage of the sun (solar heat) to heat up and keep warm. When the sun is out on winter days, some birds expose the most prominent surface of their bodies to the sun by raising their feathers slightly to allow the sun to heat their feathers and skin effectively.
Birds get heated up faster as they expose some surface areas to the sun.
Reduced Level Of Activity
Hummingbirds mostly reduce their level of activity to survive the cold weather. The use of the process is known as torpor to conserve energy. It is the state of being inactive and having little power to minimize metabolism and save heat. This temporary hibernation period will ensure that the hummingbirds remain alive through the night in the winter.
Unlike other birds, they cannot store enough food to produce fats and energy, which will keep them warm. Birds in hibernation are very vulnerable to predators and can get killed because their reactions are slow and prolonged.
Help From Humans
Birds can also stay warm during winter if they can get help from human beings. Birds can always use the extra shelter provided by humans to keep warm and survive. Dead trees and roost boxes can be offered to birds as a hiding place to stay out of fridge temperature and protect them against predators.
During the winter, food, water and shelter are tough to find due to snow hips all over the place. A birdhouse well furnished with dry grass or wood can help give the birds a better shield against the cold.
During the cold weather, it is always challenging to find food and water. Due to the season, natural food sources dry up because the whole ground and tree are covered by snow. Pond, streams freeze up and become unavailable for their consumption. Planting fruit-bearing trees and providing fresh water in your garden can be a lifesaver for birds.
The winter season suggests that extra effort should be put in place by the human being to assist birds in surviving and pushing through the dreadful season.
- U.S Fish And Wildlife Service [Link]