Winter is a very fragile season for wild birds and not all birds survive it. There are some things wild birds do to prepare for winter but they also rely on humans for help during these critical months.
How Do Birds Stay Warm?
There are many ways a bird conserves energy and stay warm in these months. Some species grow additional feathers as the temp drops which helps with insulation. Some birds “feather fluff”, this puffs out the down feathers to create air pockets that gives the bird better insulation and traps body heat (also making the little guy look pudgy) Some birds can lower their metabolic rate to a torpor-like state. Lowering their heart rate and their body temp declines, burning fewer calories which helps them survive the coldest nights. Other birds stay warm by roosting with birds in tree cavities or nest boxes. We can help by cleaning nests and other debris out of bird houses at the end of the breeding season so that birds can use them for roosting in the cold season.
Water is Crucial and Scarce in the Winter
Dehydration can be a bigger threat to birds in these freezing months than starvation. Birds can certainly eat snow but it takes more energy for a bird to eat snow and warm it to body temp than it does for them to drink unfrozen water.
Birds use water for hydration but they also use it to preen their feathers. If birds aren’t able to preen their feathers they won’t stay positioned and aligned and that will cause gaps in insulation, which makes birds lose body heat faster.
You can give birds access to water right in your backyard by putting out a heated birdbath. Or you can add a heater to an already existing birdbath in your yard. By doing this you will also attract birds to your yard that you normally wouldn’t see like Cedar Waxwings, Bluebirds, Robins and other birds that will come just for the water if not for the food. Birds have done a great job to survive the freezing months.
But they have also learned to rely on humans for food, water and roosting. The more we can help the better their chances of survival.
Next month we’ll talk about what birds eat during the winter and what you can do to help keep them survive those bitter cold months. From the Crew and furry friends here at For The Wild Birds.