Staying Warm, Continued

Inca doves in a huddle (photo by Penny Meyer via Flickr, Creative Commons License)
Doves on a fence in Las Vegas (photo by Penny Meyer via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

8 January 2014

In this week’s very cold weather it’s hard to stay warm but birds have a few strategies that help.

They eat a lot and they also naturally shiver to stay warm.  Shivering sounds pathetic but it actually works because the muscles generate heat.  The big pectoral (breast) muscles are the best for this.

Some birds shelter in nooks or crannies of hollow trees or on the outsides of our buildings.  Look at chimney tops and you’ll see starlings absorbing the warm exhaust.  On Monday I saw a peregrine at Pitt facing inward at a high window on the Cathedral of Learning.  The window was warmer than the surrounding air.

Other birds come indoors. On Monday afternoon Richard Nugent reported he’d found a Carolina wren sheltering in his heated garage as the temperature was heading for -12 degrees that night.  What a smart wren!  Richard put out food and water for the bird to enjoy while it waited for the weather to improve.

Huddling helps. Inca doves not only huddle sideways as shown above but they make pyramids two or three rows high.  According to Ornithology, as many as 12 Inca doves will form a pyramid, fluff their feathers and face downwind in a sheltered sunny place.  “In large pyramids, doves exposed on outside positions try for better positions in the top row and cause the whole pyramid to readjust.” This sounds like a circus act, amazing to watch.

Last night was the last of the bitter cold.  If the birds can make it through today the weather will moderate, then switch to above-normal temperatures this weekend.

Hang in there, little birds.  Help is coming soon!

(photo by Penny Meyer via Flickr, Creative Commons license. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 158 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

5 thoughts on “Staying Warm, Continued

  1. I have a number of roosting pouches hanging in various places around the outside of the house. They are used primarily by the Carolina wrens and it seems one pouch – one wren. I have witnessed a “rumble” between 2 or 3 wrens when one tried to enter a pouch that was already occupied. Sunday evening, I saw not one, not two, but three wrens fly into one of the pouches – one after another. Guess they know that there is warmth in numbers. They are fascinating little birds to watch.

  2. We were worried about our chickens. My husband checked on them in the middle of Monday night. He was surprised that when he opened the door, there was warmth! They had also settled all their differences and were all perched on one roost together.

    …keep in mind, their chicken house is insulated with storm windows, a storm door and gutters. They are in their own literal house. 🙂

    1. I like the idea that they settled their differences — at least for that night. Staying warm & alive is obviously more important than arguing over petty things.

  3. I looked out my cellar door yesterday morning (when it was below zero) to see several mourning doves huddled together outside at the bottom of the stairs. It’s well below grade so it typically doesn’t get either too hot or too cold, and it’s sheltered from the wind. Clever birds.

  4. Small flock of ring-billed gulls were huddled around a sewer grate at Kennywood shopping plaza yesterday at 10:00 am. Completely unconcerned about cars driving by or people stopping to gape.

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