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Winter Survivors - Part 1

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Posted on Thursday January 23, 2020


As the days of winter continue on, we humans sip our favourite hot beverages, turn up thermostats or add another log on the fire, and huddle down wishing for an early spring.

Hopefully, you have ventured out to enjoy the season, and taken in the marvels of the winter survival at its best! Some of the most intriguing winter survival tactics are right here in the back yards, and woodlands of the Ottawa Valley.

Think for instance about one of the most common birds in our area, the Black-capped Chickadee. These little balls of fluff weigh little more than a few paper-clips, yet they survive the harshest of weather.

Chickadees, like most of our winter birds, grow additional feathers after the summer moult, allowing them to trap warm air close to their bodies when the feathers are fluffed.

Researchers have found that Chickadees eat just about anything they can find during winter including dormant insects and their eggs, berries, seeds, and the fat of animals killed by predators. They also have excellent memory for finding food that they cached earlier in the fall. No wonder our birdseed and suet feeders are little backyard airports!

A single Chickadee needs to eat the caloric value of 250 sunflower seeds per day, in order to survive a cold winter night.

At sunset a Chickadee retreats to its roost cavity, chosen in a nearby tree. As night-time temperatures drop, it enters a state of “controlled hypothermia” called torpor, during which it lowers its body temperature and slows its breathing and heart rates. This allows the bird to slow its metabolism thus using less of those daytime calories. Yet, daylight will bring it from its roost 10 per cent lighter than when it went in the night before, to start the feeding frenzy again.

Venture outside this week and see these Winter Survivors for yourself, and stay-tuned for more “Stories from the Field”.