Winter is a wonderful time to take a walk in the park. The air is crisp, and it’s easy to see and enjoy the wildlife that abounds.
While we can put on coats and mittens to keep cozy on our winter wonderland adventures, have you ever wondered how our feathered friends keep warm during this chilly time of year?
Birds, like us (assuming that the entity reading this is human), are warm-blooded and have an average body temperature of around 106 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that when the temperature drops, they need to fly to a warmer locale or adapt to the changing conditions.
Birds are remarkable creatures and possess a number of ways to stay toasty:
- Insulation: Like other animals, birds eat, eat, eat in preparation for the cooler months, packing on the pounds (or in this case, partial ounces) to create a layer of fat to help keep them warm. They have to be careful, though. If they get too heavy, they aren’t able to fly and can become an easy meal. Birds also insulate themselves by puffing up their feathers; it’s like they are wearing their very own down comforters!
- Lifestyle: Many birds seek shelter in nooks and crannies in trees and rocks or do their best to find a cozy spot in dense foliage. They also hang around other birds to share body heat when the temperature drops.
- Physiological changes: Some birds enter a state called torpor in which they slow down their heart, metabolic, and respiratory rates to conserve energy. However, this can make them vulnerable to predators, so most bird species do not enter torpor unless in dire circumstances. You can learn more about it here. Amazingly, some birds can even alter their blood flow so that it circulates around important organs, but doesn’t go to their extremities. How nifty is that?
While birds are pretty talented at maintaining their body temperature in the winter, they could still use a little help from their human friends. Here’s a few ways you can contribute to avian well-being and create a better winter habitat:
- Put up some roost boxes. While traditional birdhouses provide some shelter from the cold, they are not ideal for winter habitation. They do not provide perching surfaces, and are often too small to accommodate more than a couple birds. Roosting boxes are more spacious, offer wooden dowels or roughened indoor surfaces, and have lowered entrance holes to prevent heat loss. You can learn more about roost boxes and find a plan for building one here.
- Provide some nutritional supplementation. When it comes to finding sustenance, winter is a challenging time for birds. Insects are dormant, most of the vegetation is gone, and heavy snow makes life even harder. Setting up just one or two bird feeders will make their lives a lot easier, and bring a variety of wildlife to your backyard for you to watch and appreciate. It can be difficult to decide what type of feeders to install, what to serve, and where to locate them. Luckily, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has created a great guide to get you started. You can find it here.
- If you want to go the extra mile, you can also plant evergreen shrubs to help provide a little herbaceous cover for our feathered friends. I’m sure they would appreciate it!
We hope you will find a way to contribute to a positive habitat for birds this winter to help our little friends thrive, and maybe get in some exciting bird watching along the way!