Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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Hawks Aloft Blog

Birds in Winter

Avian Ambassador Beauty the Turkey Vulture stayed warm last winter by making a home indoors. Photo by Gail Garber.

While many birds prepare for long journeys south for the colder months, others prepare to endure the cold weather. Some birds, like many sparrows, find shelter in thick foliage, while others continue to roost in cavities—especially those of living trees, whose trunks hold more of the day’s heat during long, cold nights. Many birds also reduce some of their surface area by doing something you’ve probably noticed before—puffing up their feathers and tucking their head into their bodies.

Dark-eyed Junco in the snow by Kristin Brown.

Some of the most common winter birds are finches, sparrows, titmice, jays, woodpeckers, and chickadees. Since birds are warm blooded, just like us, they use some similar tried and true tactics to stay warm, like one of my favorites—putting on extra insulation. For birds, that is often an extra set of feathers that act as an insulator. Some geese, for example, do this. Many birds also eat more or higher-fat foods for an energy boost when the temperature drops. This can make the seed offered at feeders all the more important during fall and winter. The best foods to offer to your backyard birds at these times are those with a high oil or fat content, such as peanuts, hulled sunflower seeds, and suet cakes.

Another challenge many birds in winter face is access to fresh water. As lakes, ponds, and birdbaths freeze over, it can be incredibly difficult for them to find drinking water. Consider a heated birdbath, or at minimum regularly changing any water in your birdbaths so that during the day fresh water is accessible.

Pygmy Nuthatch feasting on high calorie foods. Image by David Powell.

Other strategies that birds use to stay warm include communally roosting (one researcher noted as many as 100 pygmy nuthatches entering the same pine tree on a cold winter night).  Bluebirds and many other species do this, too. Others, like chickadees, shiver, but not exactly the way we humans do. Instead, they use opposing muscle groups to create contractions that help them generate and retain body heat. Famously, others species such as hummingbirds go into a state of regulated hypothermia overnight and then spend extra energy to warm up again in the morning.

Still other birds have some unusual strategies. Take for example, our Avian Ambassador Beauty, who relies on the help of human friends to stay warm during New Mexico’s colder months. Beauty is a Turkey Vulture who came to us as a human imprint almost two years ago. Prior to her rescue, she had spent most of her life indoors, and as a result, is very cold intolerant. She spent most of last winter inside the home of our executive director, Gail Garber. This year, however, we have different plans!

So that Beauty can remain outside, we’ve designed an east-facing enclosure for her with windows and a dedicated heat source that it will ensure that it never gets colder than 50 degrees in her new home. Another way to support and care for birds during winter—or at least one in particular—is to make a donation to our GoFundMe to build Beauty’s new winter home!

On our GoFundMe page you can find more pictures and videos of Beauty, make a donation, or share it on your personal social media. As we all prepare the cold, please keep in mind the comfort of all birds, including Beauty!

Help us help Beauty stay warm this winter! Photo by Gail Garber

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