Birds Survive Cold Winters By Adding a Feather Jacket

Photo: Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Scientists have studied birds to try to understand how they stay warm during the cold winter months — the answer is a variety of strategies, including adding a “coat” of feathers, shivering, and some species, such as chickadees and bluebirds, huddle together to share heat — all things that humans do too.  But other cold-weather adaptations are more unique to birds — The Washington Post explains that in addition, they puff out their chest feathers to let air in and that creates a toasty layer of warmth — like putting on a wet suit — or they lower their body temperature dramatically to make it closer to the air temperature – a strategy known as torpor.

Why This Matters:  Understanding animal adaptation is one way we humans can learn to better adapt to our changing environment.  And it can help us to know how to make it easier for birds to survive these cold winter months — especially now that we understand that many bird populations are shrinking rapidly and we need to take actions to help them survive and thrive even as we humans encroach on their habitat. As we reported last fall, recent studies show that bird populations have declined nearly 30 percent — a loss of 3 billion birds — in the last fifty years.  In order to help birds, we will also need to conserve more of their habitat, which is a goal of the #30×30 campaign to conserve 30% of the planet for nature and wildlife by 2030.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do to help birds get through the winter, according to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Provide Them Shelter in Your Yard — create a cozy hiding place for them using a pile of brush sticks and evergreen branches or buy or build a special type of birdhouse called a roost box that has thick walls with a hole at the bottom for them to enter and can rest on perches inside.

Feed Them — install a feeder, or make your own using pine cones, peanut butter, and seeds and keep them full especially during a storm when food will be especially hard for them to find.  Be sure to protect the birds from crashing into windows (another big problem for birds) by placing the feeders either within five to 10 feet of your home or more than 20 feet away.

Give Them A Bird Bath — birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers in good shape — clean feathers keep birds warmer and help them to fly better.  Make sure that the bath is always full of water.

To Go Deeper: You can find more tips for helping birds during the winter on the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center website.

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