A Bog in the Northwoods (Part 2)

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.

This Black-capped Chickadee has fluffed up his feathers while perched to eat a peanut. The peanut provides the energy to generate heat while the feathers insulate the body. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 2000, f/8, 1/125. ©Stanley Buman. Fringed Gentian Bog.

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.

Hairy Woodpeckers, like other woodpeckers, can excavate cavities in trees. These cavities are used for more than just nesting. Cavities are also created for protection against the cold. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 2000, f/8, 1/1000. ©Stanley Buman. Arkola Road in Sax-Zim Bog.

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.

Gray Jays have their own larder where they have stocked up for the winter months. However, utilizing feeding stations allow them to supplement their reserves. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 407 mm, ISO 2500, f/8, 1/1250. ©Stanley Buman. Arkola Road in Sax-Zim Bog.

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.

Blue Jays can be less dependent on other jays when they have access to feeding stations. They don’t have to scavenge through the forest for food and other species can help alert them to danger. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 2500, f/8, 1/1600. ©Stanley Buman. Arkola Road in Sax-Zim Bog.

4 thoughts on “A Bog in the Northwoods (Part 2)”

  1. Beautiful and also birds I am familiar with! The woodpeckers are a problem with the cedar shingles on the condos here, little pests! I have not seen a cardinal for the past couple of months and usually they are abundant in the the woods along Walnut Creek. Once again, great job Stan.

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