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.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter?

Birds have many adaptations to stay warm in the winter and not become bird popsicles after a bath. First birds are the only animals with feathers. When fluffed up, feathers act as a buffer from the winds and wet; think downy coat. Then there is a gland at the base of most bird species tails that produces a special oil. When a bird preens they spread this on their feathers with their bill to help them become weather proof and shed water.

 However after awhile, the feathers become dirty, clump and don’t insulate as well. Then birds need to clean their feathers and the quickest way is with water. If the temperature is well below freezing, they may only drink from the bath and clean their feathers in a sandy pit or a snow pile. Birds can drink snow too but it uses more energy.

Also birds’ feet are made up of mainly bone, tendon, and scaly skin. And unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze.

But that’s not all. Certain birds also have a heat exchange system in their legs. It is a specialized circulatory pattern to reduce heat lost through the feet when standing in cold water.

Blood is diverted into a heat exchanger in birds’ legs by sphincter muscles to conserve heat. Arterial blood arriving from the heat exchanger in the leg is as warm as the body core temperature and the venous blood from the feet is nearly as cold as the surrounding air. Similar to a radiator, the heat flows from the arteries into the veins along the length of the heat exchange, ensuring that the venous blood will be warmed before returning to the rest of the body.

So it’s good to have a heated birdbath in the winter. As long as birds are able to find food which they turn into "heat" energy, and keep their feathers clean, they can survive in extremely cold conditions.

Related Articles:
- Are there heated birdbaths that are solar? http://bit.ly/tnTrK4
- Last Minute Gifts for Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/tXwHJ8
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/uduvLm
- Attracting Bluebirds in the Winter http://bit.ly/sw0H6P
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/vSkLTn

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