Birds are warm-blooded animals just like humans. Generally, their bodies maintain a fairly constant temperature of around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. But, you might be wondering whether birds get cold.
Just like humans, birds do feel the cold. This means that they have to use various methods to regulate their body temperature when it starts getting cold outside. Some bird species migrate to warmer climates while others find sheltered spots, huddle together or fluff up their feathers. Some birds even put on fat as a form of insulation against the cold.
Here’s how different birds cope with cold winter weather.
- 1 Fluffing Up Their Feathers
- 2 Shivering
- 3 Huddling Together & Roosting
- 4 Lowering Their Body Temperature During The Night
- 5 Tucking In Their Feet And Beaks
- 6 By Adding Layers Of Fat
- 7 By Growing An Extra Set Of Downy Feathers
- 8 Taking Advantage Of The Winter Sun
- 9 What You Can Do To Help Birds Stay Warm In Winter
- 10 Frequently Asked Questions
- 11 Final Thoughts
Fluffing Up Their Feathers
When the temperature starts to drop, many birds will fluff up their feathers. This effectively traps heat close to their bodies. In order for the feathers to provide the best insulation, they have to be clean and dry.
Most birds will preen their feathers often to keep them pristine. While preening, many birds also secret oil that they use to weatherproof their feathers. Interestingly, birds like herons and egrets will grow special feathers during the cold weather. These feathers break down into a powder that helps to waterproof their regular feathers.
All this waterproofing keeps the moisture out and traps the body heat where it’s needed the most. In fact, if you’ve ever slept under a feather quilt, you’ll understand how much warmth these feathers provide.
Many birds also shiver to increase their metabolism. But birds shiver differently to the way that we do. To shiver, birds activate opposing muscle groups. This creates muscle contractions and uses energy. By increasing their metabolic rate, birds are able to maintain their body temperature.
Smaller birds, like chickadees, are very good at this.
Huddling Together & Roosting
Not all birds are social but there are many species that will huddle together in order to preserve and share their body heat. In winter, you’ll often see small birds like tree swallows, all huddled together in a row on a single tree branch.
Other species, who nest in cavities and tree hollows, will find these places to seek shelter from the cold, especially during the night. Some of these birds will huddle together in these hiding places that also provide them protection from predators.
Even lone birds, like hummingbirds, will spend the night deep within the canopy of a tree to get as much protection as possible from the elements.
Lowering Their Body Temperature During The Night
You’re most likely aware of how hummingbirds sleep when they enter a state of torpor that drops their body temperature and dramatically slows down their metabolism.
Other birds, like black-capped chickadees, undergo a similar state but not as dramatically. These birds drop their body temperature at night while they sleep. This is referred to as regulated hypothermia.
Tucking In Their Feet And Beaks
Many waterfowl, such as ducks, swans, geese and pelicans can isolate their blood flow from their feet and legs. This means that the cold stays in their legs and doesn’t flow into the rest of their bodies. Many of these birds will also perch on just one leg and tuck the other one up into their feathers. Then, they’ll swap legs to warm up the one that they’ve been standing on.
Another interesting fact is that the legs and feet of birds are covered with special scales. These scales are designed to minimize heat loss. The scales also mean that a bird’s feet don’t contain any moisture. Therefore, their feet are unlikely to freeze.
Similarly, when it’s really cold, these birds will also tuck their beaks into their feathers. This keeps their bills warm and means that they’re breathing warmer air.
By Adding Layers Of Fat
In winter time, many species of birds will spend all day searching for fatty food so that they can add more layers of fat to their bodies. These extra layers act much like us humans putting on a warm coat.
By Growing An Extra Set Of Downy Feathers
It’s common for larger birds, like geese, to grow an extra layer of downy feathers to help keep them warm during the cold winter months. This is like dogs, cats and many other mammals that grow a winter coat and then molt once the weather warms up again.
Taking Advantage Of The Winter Sun
It’s not uncommon to see birds sunning themselves when the sun pokes through on a winter’s day. Birds will take full advantage of the warming rays to add as much heat to their bodies as possible.
To do this, birds will turn their back to the sun and raise their feathers slightly. In this way, a bird exposes as much surface area of its skin to the sun as it can. This really helps to warm up their little bodies.
What You Can Do To Help Birds Stay Warm In Winter
While birds have adapted many methods of staying warm in winter, there are things that we can do to help them survive during the freezing cold weather.
Here are just a few tips.
Supply Good Quality Food
Remember that birds need more fatty foods during the colder months. Therefore, consider filling your feeders with seeds and nuts that are high in fat. This allows the birds to increase their fat layers and stay warmer at night.
Suitable foods include suet, peanuts, black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Make Sure Your Feeders Are Full During The Day
Try and fill your feeders early in the morning so that the birds have ready access to food as soon as they wake up. This allows them to rebuild their energy supplies. Also, ensure that you keep your feeders filled during daylight hours. This way the birds will always know where to come to fuel up.
Give Birds Clean Water To Drink
During the cold weather, many available water sources will freeze. Although birds can melt snow to get drinkable water, this uses precious energy and can lower their body temperature. If it’s possible for you to install a heated bird bath, then the birds will always have fresh water ready to drink.
Offer Sheltered Spots For Birds To Roost
If you have the ability to plant dense shrubs and evergreen trees, this will give the birds plenty of sheltered spots to roost during the cold winter nights.
Another thing that you can do is add some nesting boxes or other sheltered boxes that the birds can use to stay warm during the night. Even bird houses make great roosting spots for birds during winter, so don’t be tempted to take them down.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you tell if a bird is cold?
You can determine that a bird is cold when it fluffs up its feathers and tucks its beak into its chest. Some birds even shiver.
What is the normal temperature of birds?
Because birds are considered warm-blooded, the average body temperature of a bird is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can birds die from cold?
Most birds are well equipped to survive cold winter temperatures even during the night. However, there are some that may not survive a sudden cold snap.
Even though birds do get cold, they’ve developed many different methods to regulate their body temperature once the weather starts to cool down. This is how they manage to survive the long, cold winters even when the temperature drops below freezing.
The most important asset that a bird has to protect it from the cold is its feathers. Feathers are amazing insulators as they can trap body heat inside and keep even the smallest bird nice and warm. Bird feathers also have a waterproofing feature. This means that moisture can’t get through the feathers to the bird’s skin. Even birds who spend most of their time on the water have waterproof feathers so that their bodies stay dry.
Some birds have also developed the ability to lower their body temperature during the night so that they can conserve their energy. Others put on extra layers of fat to insulate against the cold temperature especially at night.
Birds also huddle together so that they can share each other’s body heat and stay warm while being protected from the winter winds deep inside the canopy of evergreen trees and shrubs.
As a bird lover, there are things that you can do to help the local birds beat the cold of winter. Most importantly, you should provide the birds with plenty of fatty food sources such as suet, seeds and nuts. Don’t forget to supply fresh water as well. And, if you can install a heated bird bath, even better.
It’s also a good idea to provide some nice sheltered spots for the birds to spend the cold wintry nights. Consider investing in some bird houses or nesting boxes that the birds can use to escape from the elements. If you do, you might be surprised at how many birds end up huddling together in a bird house during the night.