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Birds Implement Multiple Techniques to Survive Winter

By: Michael Zuiker

December 8, 2017

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – From food consumption to feather adjustments and shivering, birds use a variety of techniques to stay warm during winter.

Food is the most essential element, providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need. To stay warm, birds will expend energy very quickly, some losing up to 10% of their body weight on extremely cold nights. An ample supply of high-calorie foods, such as black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet can be crucial to a bird’s survival.

“We can play a vital role during cold conditions,” said Michael Zuiker, owner of the Arlington Wild Birds Unlimited. “At these times, a reliable supply of food can mean the difference between life and death for a bird.” If you think of birds as little flying furnaces, you understand that they need fuel to keep the fire burning throughout the night. High fat foods in the form of Oil Sunflower seeds, nuts and suets give the birds the fuel they need.

Most birds will also keep warm by adjusting their feathers to create air pockets.

“You will often notice the birds look fatter or ‘puffed up’ during cold weather,” explained Zuiker. “This is because the birds are fluffing up their feathers; the more air space, the better the insulation.”

Staying warm is not all about food and feathers, though. Some birds perch on one leg at a time, drawing the free leg to their chest for warmth. Most birds will shiver to convert muscular energy into heat for the short term, but the energy must be replenished shortly thereafter.

While birds are equipped to withstand most winter weather, survival can be made easier by providing food, a heated, open source of water and protection from the elements with natural plant cover or a roosting box.

So, while your sitting by the fireplace, roasting chestnuts and singing holiday songs- remember to fill your bird feeders. You will be receiving a great show of colorful birds as the frozen, white flakes of water, fall. Knowing all the while that you are helping the wild birds, as the Winters wrath begins to take hold.

Wild Birds Unlimited, located in Arlington, Virginia, is part of the original and largest franchise system of backyard bird feeding and nature specialty stores with more than 275 locations throughout the United States and Canada. Wild Birds Unlimited specializes in bringing people and nature together with bird feeding and nature products, expert advice and educational events. Visit our Web site and shop online at To learn how you can open your own Wild Birds Unlimited, visit


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