4 December 2017

How do birds keep warm in Winter?

There are many great things about the winter; frosty mornings, Christmas and of course, cosying up by the fire on cold winter evenings. Feeling warm and snug against the bitter cold surroundings is one of the best feelings you can get in the winter, however for many wildlife it is far from being this easy. Unfortunately animals are very much left to fend for themselves against the harsh winter condition but luckily, it is not all doom and gloom. In fact, wild animals are very intelligent creatures who have not only learnt to adapt but also to combat the winter elements.

Many Wildlife hibernate during the winter which is a straightforward provision for survival. When done effectively, creatures including Hedgehogs, Mice and Bats can all get through the winter months successfully, to reawaken in the spring to better weather and a much richer food supply.

While effective as it is, it is not without its difficulties.   In order to survive hibernation, animals must set up certain provisions.  For instance, they have to ensure that they are a certain weight so that they have enough fat and energy reserves to sustain them through the long, cold winter. Creatures such as Hedgehogs for example need to weigh 600 grams before they can safely hibernate but achieving this weight goal can be difficult, especially when they have little or no food sources available. As the winter sets in natural food becomes increasingly difficult to find meaning many animals do not weigh enough to survive and are at risk over the hibernating months.  

Similarly, hibernating creators need the all important safe and secure place to actually settle down and hibernate into.  Sadly with the increase in development and smaller, tidier garden, these crucial areas are becoming very few and far between.  However, providing they find a place that is warm, dry and it is somewhere they won’t be disturbed, there is ever likelihood they will make it safely through the winter.

For the non hibernating creatures such as birds, getting through the winter months can be a little more challenging.  These animals have to survive the winter, enduring the constant battle that is searching for shelter and food and keeping warm and on a daily basis.   

While it is a struggle, birds are well suited to the conditions and have adapted with their environment, making it easier to get through the winter.   One major reason that they are able to stay warm and survive is thanks to their unique and well designed plumage. Not only do a bird’s feathers grant them the unique and truly amazing ability to fly but they are also absolutely essential for maintaining the heat of a bird throughout their entire body. Most birds grow extra feathers in preparation for the winter meaning that during the coldest seasons, birds have a complex coating containing several layers, each working as insulation to contain the heat. These feathers not only maintain a bird’s warmth but they are coated with special oil, meaning they are waterproof and effective against the elements. What is even more useful and interesting about these feathers is that a bird is able to use its beak and fluff up each layer. This allows them to trap even more heat meaning they stay even warmer. This is often why they appear to look larger and sometimes even fat in the winter months, but be wary as this is only layers of air and birds still require plenty of feed over the winter.

Alongside this unique and well designed plumage, there are other clever things about a bird’s body that enables them to remain warm and healthy during the winter. For instance while many animals loose heat from their extremities, a bird’s legs and feet are covered in scales which prevents heat loss. They are also able to constrict blood flow to these areas which helps to keep the heat in their core and from escaping from their bodies.  When bird’s extremities are feeling the chill, they can be found crouching over to cover both legs with feathers or tucking their necks or feet under their feathers to keep the heat concentrated in their bodies. Similarly, like us humans, birds are able to shiver to raise their metabolic rate and generate more body heat, when temperatures plummet.  While this is only a short term solution, it is often enough to ensure birds survive the extreme temperatures.  

These methods are crucial for ensuring the survival of birds over the winter although there are also other tactics that they deploy to simply stay warm and comfortable over the cooler seasons. On brighter days, birds often take advantage of the sunshine and use the penetrative rays to warm their bodies through. They go as far as to turn their back to the sun and raise their feathers across, in order to absorb as much of the sun’s heat as possible.  Similarly birds often flock as groups in small spaces in order to share body heat and to stay warm. They have a keen eye for finding shrubs, and trees as well as empty bird houses and other spots to gather together in order to maintain their wellbeing and survival.

Coping through the winter is challenging for all wildlife, especially birds but these unique creatures, intelligent and ruthless as they are able to conquer this demanding season. While stay warm and preserving their core body heat to survive, birds are also intuitive when it comes to hunting and finding food sources in the winter. Luckily there are often plenty of berries to be found in the winter months, which are easily accessible and are a brilliant natural food source that birds have adopted as part of their winter survival techniques. Feeding birds in your garden however is always beneficial as it goes a long way at fulfilling the energy and nutrient requirements they need. By filling up a few feeders, you are sure to enjoy a myriad of garden visitors this season and know that you are helping them survive the coldest spells too.

Category: News
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posted by Brinvale