How in the world do songbirds survive freezing cold?

Holy Wisdom MonasteryFriends of Wisdom Prairie, Natural Resources, Nature Notes, Weekly Wisdom 2 Comments

By Julie Melton

The short answer is that they find food and shelter. But there is more to it. Many songbirds grow a third more feathers in preparation for winter. Fluffing up feathers creates thousands of tiny air pockets that hold heat close to birds’ bodies. Outer feathers help hold the heat in. Birds have to keep their feathers oiled to maintain waterproofing. Insulation isn’t enough.

Shelter is vital to survival. Birds can reduce their nighttime temperature to save energy. They still need protection from wind, snow and predators. Some birds huddle together in dense conifer boughs, shrubs, and under snow covered boughs and brush piles. Cavities in old trees are lifesavers. A tiny Chickadee’s body temperature falls from 108 to 90 degrees F. Blood flowing from a bird’s core warms the dangerously cold blood from the feet as it returns to the body. Even so, it burns about 30% of its fat resources at night.

Searching for food and shivering during the night use up stored fat energy. Songbirds need prodigious amounts of food in the cold to maintain body heat because the area of their body exposed to the cold is huge compared to their mass. A Chickadee needs to eat the equivalent of 250 sunflower seeds a day. By comparison, a 150 pound human would need to eat 52 pounds of food if they had the same energy requirements. Like other species of animals that survive winter, Black-capped Chickadees’ brains increase in size in the fall so they can remember where they cached seeds. The caches may be under bark, or in clusters of needles or leaves. Of course other birds and squirrels will eat some too.

Insects make up to 50% of some birds’ winter diet. Watch birds search trees, leaves, and pine needles for tiny spiders, insect larvae, egg sacks and berries. Gray dogwood and Virginia creeper provide fat rich berries. Gathering in a foraging flock increases the chance of finding food. Our diverse landscape feeds a variety of birds.

Songbirds survive the winter because they are created to deal with the cold. Wisdom Prairie provides them with food and shelter. They provide us with more evidence of God’s love of creation. Enjoy the awe!

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Comments 2

    1. I have been wondering about this especially these extreme cold days and made a note to myself to look it up. Thank you Julie for sharing this.

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