Winter time for our garden birds

February 2021

Birds in survival modus

We had some serious cold weather coming in from the east last week. In one night we had 20 cm of fresh snow and temperatures stayed well below zero for more than a week. All the garden birds went into survival modus and a lot of them stayed very close to our house for shelter and food. Apart from consuming more calories the birds have other tactics to survive the extreme cold. Like this robin that fluffed its feathers to increase the amount of air next to the body. Even when standing in the snow a robin’s feet don’t get cold. The exposed part of its legs don’t have muscles that require a lot of blood flow. Like other small birds robins can well adapt to the colder weather as long as they can find enough food to burn. With freezing temperatures their metabolism goes up to keep them warm. Their circulation is high so that the blood doesn’t have time to chill. As a result it is not uncommon for small birds to loose 10%-20% of their weight just during one cold night.

Feeding time

Every morning when we went out for a dog walk we filled up the bird feeders. The birds would be watching and chattering, as if they knew. It is interesting to observe their behavior in these harsh times. They maintain their hierarchy. Black birds, woodpeckers and nuthatches chase off the smaller tits and finches. But all the birds had their turn feeding. And all the kilos of high energy bird seeds bought made the local pet shop owner a very happy man. 

A cold drink

Our small garden pond had frozen over, but every morning we created a hole in the ice so that the birds had access to water. Because the birds eat more seeds to keep warm they get thirsty. So in spite of subzero temperatures, the birds came out to drink from our pond or where simply eating snow. While doing so the birds were quite skittish as if the knew a sparrow hawk was watching them.

Plants seeking shelter

The winter had been very mild. So we were reluctant to wrap up our plants with horticultural fleece, for just a few days of Russian cold. We are happy we did and hope our vulnerable garden plants like roses, lavender, hibiscus and the terracotta pots survived the incoming cold and snow. Spring will tell. Moreover the fleece gave shelter to birds and mice as well, which is a good thing. 

Have a look at twikga Stories…

The stories of Tanja Dekker Illustration and the twikga books, children’s books about the wilderness, with its diversity of animals, plants and landscapes…