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Solving Problems with Nature - Naturally

Certified Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Author - Wildlife Lecturer - Wildlife Photographer
Non-Lethal Control of Bats since 1983

NH Nature

New Hampshire Nature Notes by Eric Orff

Thursday 01/15/2009 Zeroing it out! Shivering chickadees.

No I'm not talking about your retirement account but the temperatures. Minus 5 this morning here. It was slow to warm to 12 degrees by mid afternoon. How the chickadees have flocked to my feeders. I stood right near my front feeders on the way back from my mail box this afternoon to immerse myself in the chickadees. Chickadees are one of the first birds I can remember well. I remember the exact moment I connected with a chickadee when I was 4 years old and living in Maine. We must have put something our for the birds as I can remember standing near where they were feeding to have one cuss me out and declare itself a chickadee. That is the first bird call I can distinctly remember. I always have had an interest in chickadees since then. Which led me on a lifelong quest to learn more about many animals. But it was that little bird just inches from my little boy face that first caught my interest. Here is a little piece I wrote for the Fish and Game Wildlife Report that I did monthly for a few years before I retired.


Remember the last time you were cold? I mean, really cold, when you shivered so much that your teeth practically rattled. Imagine being that cold every night....all night, all winter long. Birds are! From our cute chickadees to gracious crows, all birds shiver all night long, all winter long. To not shiver is to die.

Our black-capped chickadees not only shiver, but have adapted other heat conserving tactics to survive the cold New Hampshire winter nights. Chickadees actually grow more feathers for the winter, doubling the number from 1,000 to 2,000. Then, all these feathers are fluffed up to add an insulating layer, trapping the warmth of their bodies. They also tuck themselves deep into a thicket of evergreens, or even find a woodpecker hole for night shelter.

Have you noticed how ravenously the birds eat at your bird feeders, especially first thing in the morning and just before dusk? Chickadees can gain as much as 10 percent of their body weight each day and lose it that night. For an adult male human of 200 pounds, that would be a 20-pound gain each day. Imagine losing 20 pounds while you slept. Sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true commercials, doesn't it? For birds it's true!

Because of this harsh reality, every cold night our local birds are flirting with death. It's always a gamble for them to see if they ate enough that day to get them through a long frigid night of shivering.

These birds can find food naturally, but you can help, too. Is your bird feeder near some close cover, like a thick hemlock or pine tree? Don't toss that Christmas tree just yet. Place it near your bird feeder for much-needed winter cover. If it's snowing, be sure to clear the feeder of snow by mid-afternoon. It's that last meal of the day that is most likely going to get birds through the night.

And don't forget, once you begin feeding birds during the winter, it is very important to be consistent. Empty feeders may cause hardship during extremely cold or stormy winter weather. If you are going to be away for even a few days, ask a neighbor to check and refill your feeders regularly during your absence. -- Eric Orff, wildlife biologist


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