As winter approaches, most of us have our warm homes and indoor facilities to keep us safe and warm. But have you ever wondered what happens to the animals and birds out there in extreme conditions? Do they hide somewhere, or do they have special abilities that help them stay warm?
This post talks about birds and their survival in winters. Birds are warm-blooded animals, which helps them stay warm in the cold winters and outdoor climate. Several birds migrate to warmer temperatures when winters approach; however, some species remain in the same region.
Birds are warm-blooded. Their bodies can maintain the temperature in winters to up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. To survive, their bodies produce heat and maintain it using different bodily mechanisms just like humans, which allows them to have a better chance of preserving and protecting their territory.
Birds are warm-blooded creatures with a steady internal heat level that doesn’t change as the temperature changes. Birds utilize different metabolic exercises bringing about heat production to keep up with the temperature.
Physiologically, they increase the pace of metabolic exercises to expand internal heat levels during colder temperatures. In addition, a few birds may jump into the water to lose heat through evaporative cooling.
In addition, the quills on the birds secure them against colder conditions. Many birds like ducks will cover the unfeathered body parts like appendages under the feathers to avoid heat loss.
No, birds are not cold-blooded. Like humans and other mammals, birds, too, are warm-blooded. They have a constant body temperature of about 106 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Birds have different mechanisms that help them maintain their body heat in winters or freezing temperatures.
Such warm-blooded animals are classed as homeotherms. Isn’t that interesting?
Mammals usually have two ways through which they maintain their body heat. The first method is generating body heat through internal thermal regulation; such birds are known as endothermic.
The second method is taking heat from the environment and storing it in their body; such birds are known as ectothermic.
Even though ectothermic animals are known as ‘cold-blooded’, they can still have warm blood that helps them maintain warm body temperature.
The shrinking of dinosaurs allowed birds to evolve as warm-blooded animals. According to different researches, dinosaurs paved the way for birds to be warm-blooded creatures.
A study showed that as dinosaurs decreased in size, their metabolism sped up, allowing them to burn energy from food at much faster rates, along with regulating their body temperature.
Warm-blooded animals are also known as endotherms. They need more energy to generate heat by metabolic means than cold-blooded animals, whose heat source is the environment.
Unlike cold-blooded animals, warm-blooded animals can maintain their body temperature regardless of the temperature.
Birds are warm-blooded animals. In addition, what makes them warm-blooded is their body temperature that remains constant or ranges from 35 to 45 degrees. Therefore, any environmental change does not affect the bird’s metabolic rate unless it gets too cold for them to tolerate.
Moreover, birds do not undergo any seasonal phases, for instance, hibernation or aestivation, because they quickly adapt to the changing environmental temperature.
Unlike cold-blooded animals, which regulate heat in their body through different activities such as bathing in the sun, birds perform varied activities. These activities include various metabolic and adaptive activities, for instance, sweating, migration, changing the body surface area to body volume ratio, etc.
Birds, being warm-blooded animals, also have high resistance against microorganisms because they have a stronger immune system. As a result, they quickly adapt to environmental changes that increase their chances of survival.
A bird’s feathers play an essential role in protecting their bodies from cold. They fluff up their feathers and trap air which stays warm because of their body heat. This is known as trapping air pockets around their bodies.
Let’s have a look at how these challenging birds stay warm during winters.
Most cold-weather animals use their fat, feathers, or fur for insulation. On the other hand, warm-blooded birds pack on body weight that helps them survive in winters, but feathers also play an essential role.
Their dry and flexible feathers help them trap pockets of air around them. Birds also go through a cleaning process of their feathers known as preening. However, this varies from species to species. This preening helps the birds keep a water-resistant layer on the top while the inner layer is warm.
All birds produce a special kind of oil near the base of their tail, through their glands. Warm-blooded birds use this oil on their feathers to make them weatherproof, i.e., to survive in winters.
On the other hand, different birds also grow an extra layer of feathers that split up into a powdery form. They use this powder to waterproof their feathers that likewise protects them from cold.
Most animals have human-like qualities. This is one of them. Like humans, birds too shiver to stay warm. As compared to humans and other mammals, birds have a higher metabolic rate. This helps them to burn more energy.
For instance, even birds who weigh less than an ounce have the ability to maintain a body temperature of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Here, three things help them: excellent insulation, food storage, and being active.
Another human-like habit, birds, too, cuddle for warmth. Have you ever noticed a flock of birds on a tree branch or vines sitting close together? That’s their way of cuddling to share body heat. This also helps them slow down the metabolic rate that likewise helps them conserve energy.
The most common example of birds using tree cavities or nest boxes to maintain warmth is downy woodpeckers. Cavities or nest boxes help in protecting the birds from cold weather as well as predators.
Another important question that most people ask is: if birds can grow feathers on their bodies, what happens to their feet?
There is a species of bird known as the waterfowl that circulates the blood through countercurrent heat exchange. This helps isolate the blood in their feet rather than flowing, which allows them to keep their body temperature higher.
Although birds adapt to their environment to maintain their body temperature, they do feel cold. A bird’s feathers offer some protection against harsh weather conditions, and the sleek covering makes them weatherproof.
And indeed, birds do feel cold, and for those that just can’t adjust to the environment, they migrate.
When a bird feels cold, it will put its head down and stuff its beak into its chest. Some species of birds will shiver. In case your bird’s feathers are puffed up, and it appears as though it’s dozing off, odds are it’s feeling cold.
The primary thing that birds do is that they relocate to a protected spot that has a secure shelter. Then, they cluster in cavities, anyplace that offers assurance from the cold, along with giving hints about approaching predators.
Feathers are the bird’s natural protection. When temperatures drop and light reduces, birds cushion their quills to trap tiny air pockets between the layers. This expands any body heat and holds it, and keeps helps maintain the heat.
In case you have at any point seen a bird with its head tucked under, that is its way of keeping warm. Their nostrils are covered with their plumage, where the air usually is hotter because of body heat. This helps them maintain warm temperatures throughout the day, even when they are sleeping.
During the night, some species of birds will enter a “torpor” state to curb energy. Most birds can bring down their internal heat level by a couple of degrees. However, torpor can potentially be dangerous as it dulls a bird’s responses, causing them to become increasingly slow.
Moreover, birds take protective measures to endure long winter evenings to consume and fill themselves with high-energy food, primarily during daylight hours. This helps them maintain their body temperature by burning stored fat during winters.
This is why birds consume seeds that are high in fat and protein.
Want to help roosting birds during winters? All you need to do is make them feel welcomed and safe if you want them to stay over in your backyard. Place bird feeders around your backyard and fill them up with high-fat and protein seeds such as peanuts.
Yes, birds puff up their feathers to stay warm. Puffing helps them trap much air in their body that, in return, acts as an insulator; it stops heat from flowing out of their body. Other reasons for puffing are when they are sleepy, happy, alarming a disease, or fighting an opponent.
One fundamental capacity of a bird’s feather is to keep them warm. Unfortunately, unlike humans, birds cannot wear warm clothes or winter coats to keep them warm during a chilly climate. So what helps them stay warm in the extreme cold?
Well, birds do not need coats to feel warm; they have furs and feathers that help them stay warm. Air is a bad conductor of heat. Puffing their feathers allows the birds to trap hot air around their body. The heated air trapped in the feathers and body through puffing is likewise used by birds to keep them warm.
Healthier birds can adapt to different temperatures, and hence they rarely die of cold. However, if they experience frigid weather, their chances of survival become less.
Birds always find a way out, no matter how small or unprotected they are. For example, birds like penguins live in extremely cold areas and successfully survive because they are healthy and can adapt to climatic change.
However, in case of any unexpected health issues, cold weather can leave the birds helpless. For instance, birds like guinea fowls live in warmer climates; if they are kept with penguins, they will gradually die of the cold weather.
If you have birds in your home, make sure you keep them warm as winters approach. Here are a few ways through which you can keep them warm during winters.
Make sure your bird is warm enough to survive the winters. Cover the bird’s cage from all sides to ensure warmth. You can cover the cage with a lightweight towel or a piece of cloth.
Another way of stopping the cold from entering your bird’s cage is to place hot uncooked rice in their cage. For this, grab a sock, fill it up with undercooked rice, and put it inside the microwave. Heat it from one side to a temperature that your birds can tolerate. Once done, place this inside your bird’s cage; this will help keep the air inside warm and cozy.
While some birds might stay in your area even in winters (resident birds), others will migrate. Here is a list of winter birds and their winter night routine.
Doves rest in mid-sized flocks over substantial coniferous trees, and sleeping cuddled together helps them stay warm during the night.
Pigeons are more inclined towards sleeping on a shelf-like or level rack-like region in winters. This is why you would find pigeons around edges or barn beams.
These lovely birds will search out thick, evergreen vegetation to rest inside as the night approaches.
These birds commonly roost all alone within tree cavities or bird boxes. If you own one of these, get your hands on roosting pockets to keep your chickadees warm during winter nights.
On incredibly chilly, cold evenings, you will find finches tunneled inside the snow, making a sleeping cavity. They spend most of their winter evening roosting with their fellow finches in coniferous trees.
Old, unused woodpecker openings are a nuthatch’s favorite sleeping and resting place. They get together at night, even if it means sleeping over one another during harsh winters.
Woodpeckers have similar patterns; they poke into tree cavities in winters like they do when they construct a home for themselves.
When roosting, starlings will stay together in flocks. These groups frequently incorporate a large number of birds. They usually settle down in the evening on a tree or a group of trees during wintertime.
Here are some of the myths surrounding winter birds and the facts associated with them.
Myth 1: Birds freeze to death when the temperature falls far below zero.
Fact: Birds have survival mechanisms that make them well-equipped to survive in the coldest weather conditions.
Myth 2: One must take down birdhouses in winters as birds migrate, and other beings will use the houses.
Fact: Birdhouses make great roosting houses in winters, and birds love to spend cold nights inside their homes.
Myth 3: All birds migrate to the North in the spring and to the South in the winters.
Fact: Some birds migrate to the North in the spring, whereas some migrate to the South in the winter. However, this does not apply to all bird species.
Myth 4: Woodpeckers peck in the house sidings in winters to find food or to create nesting cavities.
Fact: Although there is some evidence about woodpeckers pecking in the house sidings, it has no link with finding food or creating nesting cavities. They do so to call for their mating partners.
Different birds have different ways of dealing with harsh environments and changing weather around them. Likewise, each bird has its way of surviving in winters.
Although birds are warm-blooded and can survive even the coldest of the climates, a few birds reside in warm areas since they are likely to die if exposed to cold.
Are you interested in reading more fun posts about birds? Click here to read through this post sharing interesting facts about birds and whether they can eat popcorn or not.
My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!
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