When thinking about birds for the winter, we are often reminded of migration and tend to overlook the birds that stay active and fed during the harsher months of the year. There are quite a few of year round bird species who have no need to travel south and continue to live their lives in Massachusetts and other northern areas undisturbed. We also often assume that migration is the movement of animals to warmer climates, but it is actually the movement of animals following their food sources.
Activity certainly slows down during the winter months, but if you know where to look and what to look for, you will find that some animals are still up and about continuing with their daily routines. Of course, the animal we are focusing on right now is birds! Not all birds stay in MA for the winter, but quite a few do and we are going to explore why they are able to do this!
Our investigation will start with the physical adaptations that allow birds to stay, or the traits that they have that are part of their bodies that allow them to survive throughout the winter.
Birds are Endothermic!
Endothermic animals are animals that are able to produce their own body heat and maintain the same temperature all year round. Birds and mammals are the only endothermic groups of animals, which is why they tend to be the most active during cooler weather conditions. This is also why when humans, or our furry friends (dogs, cats, etc.), go to the doctor’s office, it is important to take our temperatures and make sure we are staying the same temperature! The ability to produce their own body heat is key when being able to stay active in the cold.
Some birds have the ability to go into a state of torpor on very cold days, but birds are not able to do this for as long as mammals. Torpor is essentially a mini state of hibernation where breathing slows, blood pressure slows and body temperature decreases. The only bird that is known to do this for extended amounts of time is the Common Poorwill, which is not a Massachusetts native and can stay in a state of torpor for weeks!
If you are looking for ways to attract common winter birds to your yard, just grab some bird seed and spread it on the ground! If you are looking for a more crafty way to attract birds to a specific location (possibly outside a window) you can find some kind of vessel, I like to use empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, and put a string through them to hang. You can then cover the roll with peanut butter and sticks seeds to the outside! When watching birds this winter, try to identify some of their adaptations that allow them to stay active!
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