Guide Winter Birds

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Blue jays also really like cracked corn Nyjer seeds 5.

Winter Birds of the Champlain Valley

American goldfinches 4. Common redpolls if you have birch trees nearby common redpolls will eat birch seeds too Suet 3. White-breasted nuthatches 2.

Aurora Winter Bird Lyrics

Brown creepers Cedar berries 1. Have you spotted any birds in your neighbourhood? Comment below to share your bird sightings!

Bird Friendly Winter Gardens

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Once I saw an eagle gliding all around my neighborhood. Although some species have devised the evolutionary equivalent of proprietary solutions, most birds follow a simple formula: maximize calories ingested while minimizing calories spent. Chickadees like most year-round northern birds brave the winter in their bare uninsulated legs and feet. Yet their toes remain flexible and functional at all temperatures, whereas ours, if that small, would freeze into blocks of ice in seconds. They do.

Every time the bird sends heat via blood from the body core to the extremities, it must produce more heat in the core for replacement. Thus, if a chickadee maintained its feet at the same temperature as its body core, it would lose heat very rapidly, and that would be so energetically costly that any bird doing so would quickly be calorie depleted.

Birds maintaining warm feet would be unlikely to be able to feed fast enough to stay warm and active. The warm arterial blood headed toward the feet from the body runs next to veins of cooled blood returning from the feet to the body. As heat is transferred between the outgoing and incoming veins, the blood returning into the body recovers much of the heat that would otherwise be lost flowing out. Birds retain heat in their body core by fluffing out their feathers.

Chickadees may appear to be twice as fat in winter as in summer.

They are merely puffed up, thickening the insulation around their bodies. At night, they reduce heat loss by seeking shelter in tree holes or other crevices, and by reducing their body temperature—the smaller the difference in temperature between the bird and its environment, the lower the rate of heat loss. Still, the bird may have to shiver all night and burn up most of its fat reserves, which then must be replenished the next day in order to survive the next night. Nighttime is crunch time for winter survival because no food calories are coming in to replace those being expended.

1. Northern Cardinal

It is a tight energy balance, but by lowering body temperature and turning down heat production at night, chickadees and other small birds of winter spare the cushion of fat accumulated during the day. While physiology is a key component of surviving the cold by temperature regulation, the more critical factor is food input. Following chickadees in the winter woods, and watching them closely, reveals another secret of their winter survival.

Chickadees in winter travel in groups. In Maine, I seldom see them alone. Exploring for food, they appear to pick at just about everything, and when one chickadee finds something to eat, its neighbors notice and join in. All the while the chickadee winter flock learns by trial and error, and from each other. For foraging chickadees in winter, food options are still broad—from various seeds, spiders, and spider eggs, to insects and their pupae.

Some caterpillars overwinter in a state of being frozen solid to tree branches. In one instance I found a flock of chickadees feeding on minute caterpillars hidden within the scale-like evergreen leaves of a cedar. These diminutive coniferous-forest gnomes about half the weight of a chickadee are, because of their size, the ultimate marvels in warm-blooded winter survival.

Unlike chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets almost exclusively eat insects for their diet, yet they are too small to handle some of the larger food items—such as a silk-moth cocoon filled with a pupa. Kinglets are not cavity nesters like chickadees, and therefore not predisposed to enter tree holes for sheltering overnight.

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Thus, at both ends of the energy equation—food input and heat retention—Golden-crowned Kinglets seem highly challenged. Various scenarios have been proposed for how these kinglets manage to survive winter, such as overnighting in squirrel nests. But having followed them many winters, I found no evidence of that.

Birds of Winter - 2018

The Golden-crowned Kinglets I have observed traveled in small flocks of about half a dozen, often accompanying chickadees, yet I was never able to find where or how they spent the night. It was always almost pitch dark when I saw them last, and then they vanished suddenly. Could they have disappeared where I had last seen them? That turned out to be the case. On one evening I saw four kinglets disappear into a pine tree.

Later that night, with extreme caution and armed with a flashlight, I climbed the tree and spied a four-pack of Golden-crowned Kinglets huddled together into one bunch, heads in and tails out, on a twig. One briefly stuck its head out of the bunch, and quickly retracted it—indicating it was staying warm, and not in cold torpor. Using each other as a heat source, as a means of reducing their own heat loss, is an ingenious strategy, as it alleviated these birds from searching for or returning to a suitable shelter at the end of the day.

How Do Birds Survive the Winter? | All About Birds

By traveling as a group and converging to huddle, they were their own shelter instead. Woodpeckers have the tools and behavior to stay fed all winter. Their long, drill-bit bills and ability to cling to tree trunks and branches allow woodpeckers to access wood-boring insect larvae Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers , and also hibernating carpenter ants Pileated Woodpeckers. As for overnight shelter, woodpeckers do something that few other birds can do: make themselves a shelter specifically for overnighting.

Shelter-building is an evolutionary outgrowth from making a nesting cavity in spring, but their winter dens differ substantially. I usually find the first evidence of woodpecker overnight shelters after the first frosts in late October or November. On the forest floor, I look for accumulations of light-colored wood chips on top of the recently fallen leaves or on snow; then I look up. The excavated roosting cavity is usually in a rotting snag. In contrast, nesting holes are excavated in snags with more solid wood.

The winter overnight shelters are often within about 6 feet of the ground, at least three times lower than a nesting cavity. The same woodpeckers attend their same roost hole nightly and may use it all winter long. But not necessarily. Sometimes an overnighting hole, which can be excavated in as little as a day, is only used for a few days. Existing holes are also used opportunistically; in one case I flushed both a Downy and a Hairy Woodpecker out of the same hole. Usually, though, a hole is used by only one woodpecker at a time.

Ruffed Grouse can fly well for short distances when they have to, but they spend most of their time grounded. However, in winter their food supply is in the tops of the trees, where they feed on the buds of aspen, poplar, birches, and hophornbeam that are packed with nutrients and ready to burst into flower and leaf right after the first thaws of spring.

Winter is no time of food scarcity for grouse. A grouse in the top of a tree can pick enough buds in about 15 minutes to support its overnight needs.


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Similarly, at dawn it can feed again in a short time, filling its crop with enough buds to support its needs throughout the day. A half-hour is a trivial time investment in feeding, compared to a kinglet or a chickadee that can barely get enough food-as-fuel while foraging nonstop for the entire day.

Casual observers in the North Woods seldom see grouse in winter, even though grouse would seem to be hard to miss because of their large size. Bird watchers look for Ruffed Grouse at dusk and dawn, when they fly up into a tree, usually in the company of others, to quickly scarf down tree buds. They can ingest so much food in just a few minutes because, unlike most other birds in the winter woods, they possess a large crop a pouchlike extension of the esophagus where food can be stored.