Monday, January 9, 2012

Staying Warm On The Vermilon River. A Post To MWT and WBW.

Many people visiting the site over the last posts, which detailed the cold, commented on how difficult it must be for the smaller birds to survive, especially the Redpolls who migrate south from the boreal forest to me to spend their winter.
 So I went looking for that answer on the web, and here's what I came up with, which is mostly drawn from Birding about.com and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears.

The temperature here lately has been about -10 C up to 0 C. We've had more snow and in the warmer times the fog produced by the snow has formed a frost on the trees. I haven't looked at the long range so I don't know if we're going to dip into the -20's or not.

Just to start, birds run a high temperature anyway about 105 F to our 98.5 F. And that core temperature is key to their survival. Mother Nature has equipped them physically to withstand the cold, and it starts with the moult when their feather coverage thickens. As well the feathers are oily for waterproofing, and insulation. Scales on the feet minimize heat loss. As well the birds are able to adjust heat in their extremities to avoid heat loss. A better explanation is given below.

The birds are naturally programmed to build up fat reserves, and will migrate for food. The little Redpolls shown here are voracious eaters, and seek food by overwintering here.

Certain behavioural action also warm them. Fluffing their feathers creates air pockets. This air is then warmed from their core body temperature.

As well they tuck their beaks and feet into their feathers for warmth.

They sun themselves and will angle their body for the most exposure. In addition they raise their feathers to maximize the sun's penetration.

Shivering raises their metabolic rate. Just a brief aside the previous photos are all Common Redpolls. The males are recognizable by the red blaze under the beak. 

At night they stay in flocks in protected trees,coniferous trees, for warmth, and predator protection. Again an aside: The Redpolls are finches and are flocking with the Goldfinch.

I included this photo because it shows the falling snow. As well the birds at night can enter a torpor state which lowers their body temperature to conserve their energy.


The same applies to the Blue Jays and the Mourning Doves.

Fine for the little birds you say how about the aquatic guys, especially the female Common Goldeneye below. They will stay while open water is available. The key is the feet of course with them The aquatics have a counter current heat exchanger built into their legs. It regulates a heat exchange between the blood in their arteries, and their veins in the legs which is just enough to heat their feet in a minimum way. The warmth of the blood in the artery is then transferred to the vein and carried back to the body area. The chart which shows this is courtesy of The Penguins and Polar Bear site mentioned earlier.

All that engineering in this beauty. The situation is similar for the Canada Geese shown below. But Aquatics will also stand on one foot on the ice which limits the stress on their leg heat exchangers.

 All the Canada Geese, and the Ring-billed Gull  shots were taken in late fall or early spring, so that water is really cold.



36 comments:

  1. all beautiful shots. wildlife is amazingly engineered! until we humans start messing with the environment, at least!

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  2. That was very interesting, thanks! Every winter I feed birds. Luckily in Finland bird feeders and special food for outdoors birds are available in many shops. Though a squirrel broke our feeder :(

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  3. Great info Gary and super shots! I love the one of the goose on the ice.

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  4. Very interesting. Still at some point you would think their heating system would give out after days of being that cold. Great shots of the little guys!

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  5. All your photos are so beautiful!

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  6. Aww … tucking in their little beaks and feet to keep warm. :) From your analysis is seems they can handle it, though. Thanks as always for sharing your world. :)

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  7. Very informative and beautiful post, Gary. Always love seeing your bird pictures!

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  8. Great information and wonderful shots of the birds.

    Thanks for the I.D. of the European starling on mine. Interesting how different they look from the larger starlings I'm used to.

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  9. It looks very cold there. Love the birds. Great shots!

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  10. great post and photos. lovely birds.

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  11. I was wondering about that! Thanks for doing th research for me. Charming photos as usual.

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  12. Great pictures and a nature lesson. I appreciate your research.

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  13. Fabulous shots and such great information. Nature is wonderful!

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  14. Beautiful images and a lovely read...

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  15. Thank you for that information. It is something I always think about as I see their little bare feet on a frost covered branch and cannot help think of myself standing barefoot in the snow or immersed in icy water. Nice read. Glad there wasn't a quiz at the end.

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  16. Great photo and a very interesting post. You have answered my questions on how any birds can survive in that cold!

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  17. Great and informative post == your blog is such a painless and beautiful way to learn! The only thing I knew about was the 'puff up their feathers' bit. Even in the (relatively) warmer Pacific Northwest, there were many times when I thought I'd spotted a new bird, only to see it was merely a cold finch (or whatever). It is still fun to catch sight of even a familiar bird keeping itself warm like that. (Not so many puffy birds here in Florida ;>)

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  18. Very nice pictures and a great post!

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  19. Most interesting info and a wonderful series of pictures!

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  20. all wonderful photographs and great commentary too. The redpolls are sweet..

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  21. Beautiful shots Gary. I love those Redpoll photos especially. Thanks for the cool info too!

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  22. Very informative post Gary!
    Great pictures. Love the one where it's snowing.

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  23. Fascinating and informative Gary.
    I learnt a lot here, and had some questions answered.

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  24. So, so cold there. I love all of this post, yet that first image of the Redpoll, what a great image to have on a greeting card!

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  25. Gorgeous birds Gary! The Redpolls are beautiful little birds.
    I still love being greeted by your dog when I open your blog... beautiful!

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  26. Sweet post Gary, your pictures are amazing. Thanks for illuminating the mystery of how a one ounce bird can over-winter in twenty below weather! It never ceases to astound me.
    My best to you and Boom!

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  27. Excellent. Have you read 'Winter World' by Bernd Heinrich?

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  28. Fabulous post, it is nice when bloggers share the learning experience, thanks for your kind comments as well

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  29. I do trust all of the ideas you've introduced to your post. They're very convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for starters. May you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.
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