• Clarke Wallace


I looked up from writing to see birds on the deck railing waiting their turn to feed from the wire basket hanging in full view. We also dump mixed seeds in one of the metal feeders, fixed on a post attached to the deck.

Ever wonder how the smallest of them survive temperatures dipping well below freezing during the day? Here it’s -14 C. That makes me shiver thinking about it.

I’ve spent the last few hours digging into how birds survive these conditions. It will take a couple of blogs to put down what I’ve learned and it’s fascinating. For instance:

Cold climate birds pack on body weight in late summer and autumn to help them handle what’s coming. They add feathers as well, bulking themselves up. Many species keep warm with blood circulating near the vital organs which allow ‘extremities to cool down’.

Birds keep warm by shivering. Like us jumping up and down outside when it’s cold. We shiver too like birds do. Another way is by them trapping air in their feathers to create ‘a layer of warmth around itself’.

Many birds have no feathers on their legs or feet. This allows the feet to reduce temperatures to align with temperatures of whatever they stand on.

Smaller birds such as long-tailed tits, sparrows and chickadees, the ones I see most, conserve heat at night by huddling together to reduce the surface area. They jostle for the best position because those on the outer edges lose the most heat.

Author’s comment: What I’m saving for next time is how ‘winter’ birds cache away seeds for the colder months. They even remember where they hid it.

I sometimes wish I could do the same thing. Find whatever goes missing.

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