How Birds Stay Warm in the Winter

Birds have several ways to beat the cold, but none so important as their feathers. You may have noticed how on a very cold day the birds at your feeder seem rounder and more puffed up than usual. This is a way of keeping warm by raising the feathers to create pockets of warm air and enhance insulation. In addition, many species change their plumage, molting into a fresh thick set of feathers prior to the colder months. Especially helpful are the very fluffy and soft body feathers known as down. These feathers provide super insulation.

At night, birds can dramatically slow down their body’s metabolic rate and lower their body temperature, to conserve energy. During very cold nights, small birds such as chickadees and nuthatches may find a tree cavity or birdhouse where they can spend the night, huddled together with several other birds of the same species. Such communal roosting permits the birds to share body heat. There have been reports of as many as 20 pygmy nuthatches sharing a single tree cavity.

Ducks can swim in water that is almost frozen because their feathers have natural oils and are waterproof which retain all their insulating ability. Ducks have a netlike system of blood vessels in their legs that brings warm blood from the heart, alongside cold blood returning from the feet, keeping the feet warm in icy water. Some birds are not adapted to survive cold winter weather. These species are known as migrants since they must migrate in response to changes in weather.

8 Fun Facts About Birds

Owls can’t be heard when they fly.

The Kiwi is the smallest member of the family of birds called Ratites.

There are over 9,200 species of birds known.

The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards.

The Green-winged Teal is the only species of duck known to scratch in flight.

Geese have been observed flying over Mt. Everest at 29,000 feet and South American condors range up to 20,000 feet, the high-flying record goes to an unfortunate vulture that collided with a jetliner over West Africa at 37,000 feet.

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