Monday, November 1, 2021

How Birds Survive Winter

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

The Living Bird is the flagship publication of Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology and is written for people interested in learning more about birds.. 

The current issue has a relatively short and beautifully illustrated article on how birds survive in winter. It is written by Bernd Heinrich, an ecologist and animal behaviorist--a premier field biologist--who has studied several of these birds under severe winter conditions in Vermont.

The birds discussed in his essay for The Living Bird are Black-Capped Chickadees, Golden Crowned Kinglets, Woodpeckers, Ruffed Grouse, and Crows and Ravens.

Heinrich writes, "It seems logical that most birds flee the northern regions to overwinter somewhere warmer, such as the tropics. Their feat of leaving their homes, navigating and negotiating often stupendous distances twice a year, indicates their great necessity of avoiding the alternative—of staying and enduring howling snowstorms and subzero temperatures.

"However, some birds stay and face the dead of winter against seemingly insurmountable odds. The they can and do invites our awe and wonder, for it requires solving two problems simultaneously. 

"The first is maintaining an elevated body temperature--generally about 105 degrees F for birds--in order to stay active. ...

"The second problem to be surmounted in winter is finding food. For most birds, food supplies become greatly reduced in winter just when food is most required as fuel for keeping them warm."

The article is about the behavioral, ecological and physiological strategies employed by birds in winter. You will also learn how a very talented and persevering field worker cleverly studies birds in winter. He is not immune to climbing a tree on the coldest of nights, flashlight in hand to answer a question he had about a winter roosting site and to make observations on the behavior of the birds using them..

If you are not familiar with these strategies, you will be impressed.

Read and view Henirich's essay here. And if you are interested in his book you may take a peek inside at Amazon.   For more about Heinrich here is the Wiki entry.

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