How do birds stay warm in the winter? Dayton winters require us humans to bundle up from head to toe, and yet these tiny little feathered wonders are out in the elements 24/7 with (seemingly) only their feathers to keep them warm. How is it that they don’t all freeze to death?
As mentioned in a previous article, birds have extremely high metabolisms. A bird’s metabolism is about twice as high as that of a human. The body’s metabolism controls the way that the body utilizes food and oxygen to produce energy. Interestingly, the body temperature of an animal indicates how high that animal’s metabolism is. The higher the animal’s temperature, the higher is its metabolism. The normal temperature of a human being is 98.6 degrees. Birds have the highest body temperature of any animal, ranging between 104 and 113 degrees! Birds produce more body heat which helps them keep warm in winter weather.
Even more interesting is the ability of certain birds to actually control their own metabolism! The snowy owl, for example, lives in harsh climates; when the wind chill drops to forty below, the snowy owl’s metabolism is twice what it was at the freezing mark. Chickadees, which are abundant in the Dayton area, can lower their body temperatures at night to conserve energy.
Then there are the feathers! Feathers provide great insulation from the cold and in the winter, birds actually grow more feathers (just as other animals grow winter coats of fur). The American Goldfinch, also a favorite local resident, has 1000 more feathers in winter than in summer! Birds fluff up their feathers - much the way the hair on our arms stands up when we get goose bumps when we are cold - and are able to trap air between them. The bird’s body heat warms this air and provides additional insulation against the cold. The tiny fluffy down feathers in between the larger contour feathers are also waterproof!
What about their feet? How do they keep their little feet from freezing? The blood vessels in a bird’s legs are designed to keep their feet warm: the veins, which carry blood back to the heart, lie close to the arteries. Arteries carry (warm) blood away from the heart, so the arteries actually help keep the veins (and the blood in the veins) warm. This is the same design that enables ducks and other waterfowl to go paddling about in frigid winter waters.
Too, a bird’s feet are not as susceptible to cold because they are basically bones covered with tough, scaly skin which contains little water. Our feet involve soft tissue and skin which is made up chiefly of water…which freezes at less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our Midwestern birds have been equipped by their Creator with everything they need to survive our frigid winter weather. An assist from you with some bird seed or suet will go a long way to making that survival easier, and will help cover them in the event of a sudden winter storm.
Visit A Bird’s Paradise in the 2nd Street Market and talk to Rachel. She can set you up with some supplies to help our your backyard birds, no matter what your budget. You can even purchase a modest suet feeder and make your own suet at home in order to save a few dollars while making the lives of our backyard songbirds a bit easier. They will reward you with song, a colorful show, and by plucking off harmful garden bugs come spring!
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