🐦 Wild Bird Watchers Bulletin: November Edition

It’s Our Anniversary!

November 1st, 2020 marked the 25th anniversary for The Preferred Perch! We are so grateful for all of your support over the years and want you to know it is because of YOU that we are able to hit such an amazing milestone. The Preferred Perch is very proud to be an independent, Manitoba-made store. Due to the current situation in the world we were not able to hold an event to celebrate with you but are hoping things will be better in spring to do it then. In the meantime, we have made some donations to our favourite wildlife causes in your honour! The lucky recipients will be:

The Wildlife Haven – $250
Manitoba’s wildlife rehab centre taking care of our injured wildlife

Lady Gray’l Fund- $250
Supporting the research, education, and conservation of Manitoba’s wildlife

Female Pine Grosbeak

How do wild birds survive in the dead cold of winter? When the temperature drops and the wind chill kicks in, it can be life threatening to humans yet wild birds carry on each day seemingly unbothered by the brutality of winter. What do they have that we don’t!

Birds have the highest body temperature in the animal world, ranging from 105-112 degrees compared to about 98 degrees for humans. Keeping up these temperatures requires a lot of calories in winter. Preparing for the cold season begins in fall when wild birds begin to build up fat reserves. An extra layer of fat serves as insulation and can provide extra energy needed to maintain their body temperature.

Male and female Purple Finches eating shelled sunflowers

Feathers are the staple in being able to stay warm. In fact, wild birds will grow about one thousand new feathers for winter! These are mostly down feathers which are closer to the skin. You may witness birds shivering and puffed up in winter but, they are not doing this because they are cold. It is actually a way to produce more body heat. This method is only used in the coldest of weather as it requires a lot of energy and calories to do. The exterior feathers provide a source of water and wind-proofing as well as insulation. All birds have an oil gland located at the base of their tails. You may sometimes see a bird rubbing their head from the tail upwards. This is the act of spreading that oil throughout their feathers to keep them in top condition which is imperative all year to a wild birds well-being but especially in winter.

I have been asked many times how birds skinny little legs don’t freeze off. Their legs are designed with very hard scales that reduce heat loss. Birds can also control the temperature of their legs separately from the rest of their body by restricting the amount of blood flow. Sometimes birds will tuck their head under their wing and crouch down to keep their faces and legs warm. The most surprising thing about wild birds in winter is how they make it through the long, severely cold nights. Some birds like chickadees and nuthatches will roost together in small groups inside a cavity. Another skill birds use during the night is to go into a state of Torpor. This is when they reduce their metabolism to reduce their body heat by about 50 degrees. This is a significant way to reduce and conserve calories but can be dangerous. During this state, birds are vulnerable to predators as their reaction times will be very slow until they bring their metabolism back up.

Evening Grosbeaks enjoying water at a Heated Birdbath.
See our selection of heated baths available in 4 different options!

To help wild birds have a bit of an edge on winter here are some tips. Provide black oil sunflower as a staple food. This seed is very high in fat and caters to all birds in winter. You can also consider shelled sunflower which makes things even easier for them. A quality suet is an excellent source of fat, energy, and calories and is a great attraction for woodpeckers and nuthatches in particular. Water is used to wet the oil gland making it easier to disperse the oil throughout their body. Heated birdbaths are a great way to offer water and don’t worry, birds will not bathe like what you would witness in summer but on milder, sunny days you may see a little splashing around. Leaving birdhouses out will provide a shelter for birds to roost in during the night.

Wild birds are not dependent on feeding stations as they are always able to find natural foods but, offering high quality foods and keeping your feeders full certainly makes their lives much easier. In return, you will be treated to the antics and beauty of wild birds all season long keeping your spirits as bright and cheerful as the birds themselves.

Common and Hoary redpolls are a lively finch that visit feeders in winter. These tiny birds can survive in temperatures as cold as -55 Celsius. Redpolls are known to tunnel into the snow during the night to stay warm. The tunnels are about a foot long and 4 inches below the snows surface and provide great insulation on the coldest of nights.