About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Help Birds Beat Their Winter Woes

While birds are equipped to withstand most winter weather, they obviously can't turn up the thermostat, throw on an extra blanket or whip up a warm cup of cocoa. However, there are a number of ways you can help make survival easier by providing food, an open source of water and protection from the elements.

The Importance of Keeping Your Feeders Full
Food is the most essential element, providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need. To stay warm, birds will expend energy very quickly, some losing up to 10% of their body weight on extremely cold nights, and this fat must be replaced every day.

Normally, birds that come to feeders obtain only about 20% of their daily calories from food offered in feeders; the rest come from natural food sources. In contrast, during periods of cold weather, your birds may use your feeders to load up on calories as a means of survival.

The Importance of a Reliable, Open Source of Water
Birds continue to need a source of water for drinking to maintain their metabolism during dry, cold weather. Clean feathers help birds stay warm, and a bird bath is often the only way for some birds to drink and keep their feathers in top condition when it’s cold.

Most birds adjust their feathers to create air pockets, which help them keep warm. The soft, fluffy down feathers are puffed up with air to create a warm blanket around the bird. The body feathers lie on top of each other, overlapping like shingles on a roof. Small interlocking barbules, or “hairs,” zip their feathers together to create an airtight windbreaker. Also, most birds preen their feathers with the oil produced by a gland on their backs near their tails to create a waterpoof rain coat. Research has shown that a chickadee with well-maintained feathers can create a 70° (F) layer of insulation between the outside air and its skin.

Protection from the Elements
Birds need a place to escape the elements. Installing roosting and nesting boxes in your backyard can give birds a warm, dry place to stay overnight. Shelter is also necessary for protection against natural predators, such as birds of prey and cats.
Source: WBU Nature News http://www.wbu.com/news/naturenews.html


Anonymous said...

I purchased a couple of WBU's hanging roosting nests. Other than a chickadee landing on top of one, I haven't noticed any sign of use. They are currently hanging from a branch of a maple tree and crabapple tree. Would it be better to set them in a bush?

Also, last year a group sparrows used one of my bird houses--which I neglected to clean out--during the cold winter months. I cleaned it this fall and they're not using it again. Do you think they just found better accommodations?

E Lansing

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

The roosting nests are only used during the night usually, so you might have missed them. If not, throw a handful of safflower seed in them to assure them it’s a nice place to rest awhile and not a trap.

Sparrows may have abandoned the nest for the winter because they like to double/triple/quadruple up in boxes to keep warm.

I have two similar boxes fairly close. Every morning I watch a large number of birds tumble out of one, while the other hasn't been used since the last nesting.

I'm sure when spring comes they will divide up territories again and use the neglected box.

Vetsy said...

I often wondered where birds during the winter season found their drinking water if it was not provided by some of us... I would assume that they would use the snow as a source..Is this assumption correct?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

People worry about birds finding food in the winter but dehydration can be a bigger threat to birds than starvation. Though birds can eat snow, it takes much more energy for a bird to eat snow and warm it to body temperature than it does for them to drink unfrozen water.

Water is not only important for hydration, but it also helps birds preen their feathers to stay in position. Dirty feathers out of alignment in winter create gaps in insulation, which makes birds lose body heat faster.

Access to unfrozen water from a WBU heated birdbath is always a welcome site to birds when temperatures dip below freezing.

Vetsy said...

I have placed warm/hot pots on top of solid ice on my bird bath to melt it into a liquid for my birds...and although I have done this to aide my little visitors during the winter months...

I did not fully understand just how important this was for the birds as a whole.

I have never had a WBU bird bath warmer I will have to purchase one soon.

Thank you... Vetsy of eastern Michigan.

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

If you don't have a heated birdbath you can pour water in a birdbath every day at the same time. Usually at breakfast or before dinner and the birds will catch on to the schedule quickly.

I don't have access to a electric outlet in the front of my house and this solution has worked out well.

Supreetha said...

What do birds do to protect themselves from natural calamities, apart from migrating or so?

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Like humans, birds have to contend with natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and fire as well as manmade catastrophes like wars, oil spills and pollution. Unfortunately even with several survival strategies, mortality rate can be high.

Depending on the crises, it's safe to say most birds seek shelter. Birds can evacuate the area, settle down into hollow cavities of large trees, or go to the ground when emergencies happen. Then they only have to worry about food.

Most of a bird’s life is spent seeking food from several locations. Some birds even store or cache food for rainy days. And even though humans have made it difficult for some birds because of the destruction so much natural habitat, they have also helped a lot.

In times of crisis, people with backyard birdfeeders can make the difference between life and death. And bird rescue and research centers have also helped many birds through rehabilitation, emergency response, education, research, planning and training.

Many events over the years have caused a negative impact on birds, but we have to remind ourselves that birds have survived for millennia. Perhaps with a little help, healthy bird populations can continue to rebound after future disasters.