Bird Feeding Tips

Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.

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Cold Feet? - Part 1 of 2

Posted by on in Attracting and feeding wild birds
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Winter’s worst always brings questions to mind, universal imponderables that we tuck away for most of the year then bring out again with leaf blowers and holiday decorations. Even if you’ve never verbalized it, you have to wonder how gulls can sit for hours on an iced-over lake without freezing their feet. Or how juncos can sit on top of a snowbank. Or why chickadees don’t stick to metal feeder perches.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Bird-Feeding-statio-in-snow-Janet-Furlong-Culpeper.jpgPhotograph © Janet-Furlong-Culpeper

So why don’t they get cold feed?!

Our childhood observance or participation in such phenomena as tongues sticking to cold flagpoles have led us to expect painful outcomes when warm, wet surfaces meet dry, icy ones. But bird feet are not fleshy and do not perspire, so they don’t face that set of conditions.

b2ap3_thumbnail_northern-cardinal-at-feeder.jpg
Northern Cardinal


Birds’ feet still get cold, and the ways that birds deal with cold feet are a study in adaptability, variability, and survival. Ptarmigan, who spend their winters where daylight is scarce and snow abundant, develop feathers all the way to the tips of their toes, not just to help keep their feet warm, but also to help them walk on fresh fallen snow. By spreading their weight over a broader surface, like we do with snowshoes, they keep from sinking into snow drifts.

b2ap3_thumbnail_jumping-Dark-eyed-Junco-Janet-Furlong-Culpeper.jpg
Dark-eyed Junco.  Photograph © Janet-Furlong-Culpeper


Apparently, scales also keep birds’ feet warm. Ravens that live in the far north have heavier scales of their feet than do their cousins from more southern areas.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Carolina-wren-ground-seeds-ice-Keith-Kraut.jpg
Carolina Wren. Photograph © Keith Kraut

Our backyard birds, with their naked legs and toes exposed to the wind and weather, have developed Remarkable ways to keep from getting cold feet. Their anatomy is ideally adapted to minimize temperature variation and heat loss through their feet. In their legs, the veins and arteries are located in close proximity to one another without excess flesh and muscle separating them.

Next time: more fascinating ways your birds keep feet and toes warm!

I am delighted to join the Birdzilla team through this blog, sharing ideas and topics related to feeding and attracting wild birds in your backyard. Bird feeding is my life-long passion,  instilled by bird-feeding parents who raised me on an 80-acre farm in central Michigan.  After college, my wife and I served as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer high-school teachers in Africa and then as staff members over an eight-year period.
 
Those wonderful times led to 30-years of bird-feeding leadership as founder of the Wild Bird Centers, franchising and supporting wild bird specialty stores across the country. I helped found the Bird Education Network and was a key financial supporter of PROJECT WILDBIRD, I currently serve as Executive Director of the National Bird-Feeding Society. Several years ago, I was asked to join “The Birder’s Team”, a working group of birding leaders selected by the National Wildlife Refuge System to recommend ways to better serve birders. millions of whom visit our extraordinary network of more than 500 Refuges. These “conservation jewels” actively protect critical habitat and conserve bird populations of all kinds. Most recently, I served as a judge to select the winning artist for the NWRS’ 2015 Duck Stamp Contest.

I now look forward to helping our readers experience the best our wonderful hobby offers. As I often say “The closer we live to each other, the closer we want to be to Nature.”

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