How do birds keep warm in winter?
Emily B., Age 9
Watching birds struggling to fly in a snowstorm sends shivers up my spine. Try going outdoors in a T-shirt and flapping your arms when it’s 40 below zero. Talk about icy armpits!
While ice building up on wings is a real problem for passenger planes in very cold weather, birds never seem to have that problem. Some birds actually seem to enjoy the cold.
God’s Fingerprint in Creation
God gave birds a number of different ways to keep warm when the temperature drops. Migrating birds simply head south for a sunny vacation when chilly weather comes in the fall.
Yet many birds stay all winter long in places where ice and snow and freezing winds can stick around for months. God has given these birds some really neat ways of surviving the cold.
Some birds like ptarmigans burrow into snowdrifts. Snow crystals trap air just as feathers do. So when a ptarmigan dives into soft snow, its body heats the air around it while the snow crystals prevent the warmed air from escaping. The snow also protects the ptarmigan from chilling wind the way a wind-breaker jacket protects you from heat loss on a windy day.
When very cold weather hits, small birds like chickadees take shelter in dense evergreen branches. Their breathing and heart rate slow down. Their body temperature falls. They conserve energy by going into a state of torpor. It’s a little like temporary hibernation.
Have you ever watched birds at a winter feeder and wondered why you have to wear snow boots while the sparrows can go barefoot and not freeze off their toes? It turns out that God gave them a special heating system (called countercurrent exchange) that keeps their feather-covered bodies much warmer than their exposed toes. Just enough heat is supplied to the feet to keep them from freezing. Meanwhile, a much higher temperature keeps the heart beating, the brain thinking and the digestive system working. Amazing!
Get a clue!
Winter can be a real survival challenge for many birds. Will it always be this way? Find out what the Bible says about this subject in Genesis 8:22, Romans 8: 20 – 22.
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