How do small birds survive the mind-numbing cold temperatures that can frequent Northern Minnesota?
It turns out that birds have multiple cold-survival adaptions and techniques. Feathers have an incredible insulation quality. By fluffing up their feathers, they can trap air amongst them. These tiny pockets of air are warmed by their body heat, providing additional insulation against the cold temperatures. The more air they can trap, the warmer they stay.
But what about their legs, feet, and toes? What keeps them from freezing? No doubt, if we went barefoot in the snow, it wouldn’t take long to experience frost-bite.
If you watch birds long enough, you will see them tuck one leg up into their feathers while perched on the other. Drawing the foot inside the feathers allows it to warm up. Also veins and arteries are in close proximity. So, heat from the arteries is transferred to the veins, thereby warming the cold blood returning to the body cavity.
Still, how do their feet stay warm? Oddly enough, they just need to keep them above the freezing point of 32 degrees. Yes, they just live with cold feet.
Woodpeckers have a survival mechanism that few other birds possess. They can excavate a roosting cavity in a tree. This shelter protects them from the winter elements. These cavities are also used by other small birds.
Daily food intake is what stokes the furnace and allow birds to generate heat. Gray Jays are masters at storing food for the winter season. During the summer and fall seasons, the jays stock up on berries, insects, and other food sources, and cache these in tree crevices throughout the forest. When winter comes, they return to their “cupboards” to feed.
Blue Jays tend to flock together as they move throughout the forest. There are more eyes searching out food sources and watching for predators. Their loud vocalizations invite other jays and provide warnings too.