At this time of year when many of us retreat indoors to our comfy chairs, fireplaces and piping hot mugs of our favorite brew, we should remember our feathered friends that bring so much beauty and joy to our gardens in the warmer months. Winter is a tough time for non-migratory birds that chose to stay in the Garden State year round. While many of them have adapted some acquired behaviors to ensure their survival, we can always lend a hand during these crucial months.
Many wild birds have different ways to conserve energy and stay warm in the winter. Some are capable of growing extra feathers for extra insulation, others can lower their metabolic rate, while other species, like the social black capped chickadee, stay warm at night by roosting with other birds in nesting boxes, birdhouses and tree cavities.
Cold weather survival increases a bird's caloric intake at the time when food is most scarce. There are no insects flying or crawling around. Seeds, fruits and nuts are gone by this time of year or buried under the snow. Putting out feeders is a key step for their survival. If you have not had your feeders before now, be sure to keep them filled once you start feeding. The birds rely on us!
Frozen water sources and dehydration are two serious problems for birds during the cold months. Though birds can eat snow, it takes much more energy to warm it to body temperature than it does to drink unfrozen water.
Water is not only important for hydration, it also helps birds with feather preening. Proper preening ensures adequate insulation of body heat for those cold winter nights. Birds may have to fly a great distance to find unfrozen water sources, but we can help by putting out a heated birdbath or placing a heating element in a birdbath we already have in our garden.
Birds have developed all sorts of ways to beat old man winter, but they still rely on us for food, water and nesting sites. The more we chip in, the better off they'll be.