For the Birds: Winter and birds

Here is the latest For the Birds column:

Photo by Chris Bosak A black-capped chickadee rests on an icy branch during a winter storm in Jan. 2019 in New England.

Winter poses serious challenges for birds and other wildlife.

The cold is the first thing that comes to mind. How do small birds such as chickadees and goldfinches survive sustained sub-zero temperatures? How do water birds such as gulls, ducks and geese stand on ice all day with bitter winds driving through them?

Birds that remain in New England all year have adapted to the low temperatures. Cold may be a challenge, but it’s one they can handle.

Chickadees and other birds have all sorts of adaptations to survive bitter cold days and nights. They increase their weight and fat percentage, they puff out their feathers to trap warm air close to their bodies, they huddle together for warmth, they drop their body temperature at night, and they eat a lot.

Water birds have an extra layer of down feathers to keep dry and toasty. Also, their legs don’t freeze because of a magical counter-current heat exchange between their veins and arteries. It’s not magic, of course, but it’s a complex system worthy of its own column. Let’s just say their feet don’t have to be as warm as their bodies (otherwise they’d be covered in feathers) and the way their blood flows keeps the legs from freezing.

So the cold, while uncomfortable on the most bitter nights, is usually Continue reading

Birds and the cold and snow

Photo by Chris Bosak Purple Sandpiper on rocky island off the coast of Darien, CT. (Dec. 2013)

Photo by Chris Bosak
Purple Sandpiper on rocky island off the coast of Darien, CT. (Dec. 2013)

Here we go again. Another snowstorm is due to hit New England tonight. That mean’s slippery roads and canceled school (if you’re a pessimist) or sled riding and canceled school (if you’re an optimist or kid).

It also means another tough night for our birds. But don’t fret, the birds will be just fine. They’ve been surviving our winters for years and years and will continue to do so.

Here’s my latest For the Birds column about how birds survive winters such as this:

Granted it’s been only three winters since The Hour has moved its offices to East Norwalk along the Norwalk River, but this is clearly the longest the river has been frozen over in that time. Instead of seeing rippling water and the accompanying ducks, geese and swans I usually see, for the last few weeks I’ve looked out the window and seen only a wide, serpentine-like expanse of white. Yes, this winter has been a tough one in New England. Extended freezing temperatures, short thaws (if any at all) and lots of snow. Humans can simply crank up the heat in their cars and homes if they are cold. But what about the birds? How do they survive tough winters like this? Birds and other animals have been surviving harsh winters for eons. True, a small percentage of birds will perish during the winter. This is particularly true of individual birds of a species that typically heads south for the winter. Most Great Blue Herons move south for the winter. Some stick around New England and brave the cold.

To read the rest, click here.