Cardinals need to eat a lot of fatty seeds in order to stay warm all winter!
Adaptations, Animals, birds, Seasons, The Art of Ecology, Wildlife Behavior

How do tiny birds survive the cold winter?

Juncos are identifiable by being the tiny grey bird that "sat in milk". These are one of the common birds that you may see during the winter.
Juncos are identifiable by being the tiny grey bird that “sat in milk”. These are one of the common birds that you may see during the winter.

We always think of birds as migrating south for the winter (wish I could too!), but obviously, some birds do stick around. These birds are able to adapt to the colder temperatures and can find enough food to stick around chilly Pennsylvania!

Birds adapt in many ways that are similar to humans. They eat yummier foods (did Christmas treats hit anyone else pretty hard?), change their clothes (feathers), stay out of the wind, cuddle and stay inside!

Many songbirds eat insects in the spring, summer, and fall. However, when the insects die off or go into dormancy for the winter, the birds still need to eat! This is when these little songbirds will change their diet and eat more seeds. This works out nutritionally as well. Insects are high in protein, which is great for growing and developing babies! Once winter rolls around though, a bird’s need changes from getting strong to staying warm. Eating seeds that are high in oils and fats provides them with burnable energy to stay warm. By eating seeds from plants like trees and wildflowers or by visiting feeders, they are able to stay warm.

This White-Throated Sparrow loves the seeds of the Sumac during the cold winter months!
This White-Throated Sparrow loves the seeds of the Sumac during the cold winter months!

Another method of staying warm is by puffing up. Humans have the ability to put on base layers, hoodies, and scarves. Birds have the ability to fluff up their downy feathers. This lets the bird stay insulated and keep warm air trapped against their little bodies. Many bird species will nest in tree cavities (or a box if you’ve put some up for them) lined with their own soft, warm feathers. Their whole family may be in there helping to keep each other warm!

For some birds, this may not be enough to keep them warm at night, however they have another method of staying warm – they simply cease to function at night. Birds like chickadees can enter something called “torpor”, which is similar to hibernation. They temporarily drastically slow bodily functions in order to conserve energy.

Chickadees can enter torpor, which is similar to a self-induced hypothermia or mini-hibernation, in order to save energy.
Chickadees can enter torpor, which is similar to a self-induced hypothermia or mini-hibernation, in order to save energy.

During the day, birds, like humans, have to deal with the wind! Research has shown that birds try to avoid the wind by ceasing flying and hopping around to protected sides of trees or buildings.

If you’re looking to help these little guys out, try putting up nest boxes to provide them with a home, or put up suet and black-oil sunflower seed feeders to provide them with that yummy, fatty food to keep them warm!

Miss the birds this winter? Add any of these photos to your collection! I would recommend getting a set of magnets so your favorite winter birds can stick around with ease OR – Check out my Shop to learn how to place an order for anything and use these photo names:

  • Old Process Cardinal
  • Bird Who Sat in Milk
  • White Throated Sparrow with Sumac
  • Black-Capped Chickadee

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