The cold winter months can be hard for our garden birds. Over time they have adapted well to the freezing conditions, but the colder winter months are still difficult for them and some may not survive. This is because they have a higher metabolism and body temperature than humans averaging about 40°C. That’s a high temperature to try and maintain when the outside temperature falls!
So how do they stay warm?
Starting with the more obvious, just like a dog or cat may get a thicker coat during the colder months, birds also grow more feathers. These extra, denser feathers are their main defense against the cold.
Their feathers are also coated in an oil. This does help in keeping them warm, but its main purpose is to protect them from the rain.
If you watch your garden birds closely around this time of year, you’ll notice they look a little bigger than usual. That’s because they’ve fluffed themselves up to trap the air around their feathers in much the same way as the hair on our legs and arms. They might also tuck their heads into their feathers for warmth.
Legs and Feet
Although their legs and feet don’t help them keep warm, their design helps them reduce the amount of heat lost through them.
Standing on one leg is a favourite for birds and a quick and easy way to keep one leg warm and reduce heat loss at the same time.
Birds will also change their behaviour during the colder months to conserve energy.
You might see birds shivering in a similar way to us. Shivering is effective for them, but it isn’t really a long-term solution to the cold.
On those crisp sunny days we often get in winter, you might see the birds facing away from the sun and fluffing themselves up. They do this to absorb and trap the heat from the sun.
Finally, birds might even gather together, sometimes large flocks in small spaces can be seen huddling together for warmth. If available, they will roost in shrubs and trees, empty bird houses and other spots that have residual heat from the day’s sunlight.
What Can We Do To Help?
All of these features help our garden birds stay toasty warm during winter, but we still need to do our bit. A lack of available natural food due to frozen conditions means they can struggle to replenish their fat reserves.
You can help your garden birds survive and prevent starvation during the cold winter months by providing them with energy-rich suet balls, suet pellets, suet cakes and suet blocks alongside peanuts, sunflower hearts and Ultiva® seed blends, all of which you can find on our website.