Bird Feeding Tips
Tips on attracting and feeding backyard birds.
Cold Feet? - Part 1 of 2
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.
Photograph © 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.
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.
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.
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!