Bird Life and Behavior

Q. Will my birds freeze to something metal if they bathe in the winter?

In the 25 years of working with birds on a professional and personal level, I have never seen or even read any documentation of a bird becoming stuck to any surface because of water on its feet freezing. If you look at a bird’s feet closely, you will notice they are covered in scales which shed water very rapidly. Birds must bathe, even in winter, to maintain healthy feathers.

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Q. Where do our orioles go in the winter?

While I have seen Baltimore Oriole in coastal North Carolina in winter, I believe most of our birds spend the bulk of their winters in various habitats in Central America. I have read that they take advantage of the trees left in shade coffee plantations.

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Q. Why do birds gather in flocks?

In short, there is safety in numbers. Many of the flocks we see this time of year are gathering to “fatten” up before their journey south for the winter. If one of the group finds food, they all find food. If one of them spots a hawk, the rest of them benefit from the early detection. If a predator tries to catch a member of the flock, the greater the number of individuals in the flock the more options there are for evasion.

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Q. I never see more than a couple of chickadees at my feeder. Does that mean that is all I have living in the area?

Absolutely not. You have probably heard me say that birds get about 15% of their daily diets from bird feeders. Now there has been a neat study published on Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. The study involved tagging Black-capped, Chickadees, Tufted Timice, White-breasted Nuthatchs, American Goldfinches and House Finches with tiny tags that set off sensor attached to feeders throughout a neighborhood. Some of the findings were impressive. One found that some birds took up to 203 seeds in one day.

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Q. Birds are singing like crazy already, when will they nest? (WINTER 2014)

Some have started already. One of the benefits of “riding out” our tough winters is that you are in prime position to get the best nesting locations early. Resident birds will often have already raised their first brood by the time neotropical migrant make it back from their wintering grounds. Attempting to nest early doesn’t come without risk. Late winter or early spring cold fronts can really impact the much needed insects available to feed their young.

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Q. How do birds stand in freezing water and not get hurt?

It really is pretty simple. Adaptation. The veins and arteries in birds legs have evolved so that they are very close to each other. Since birds are warm-blooded like us, the warm blood being pumped from the heart is “warming” the cold blood coming up from the feet so the shock doesn’t kill the bird. Pretty amazing.

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Q. I found an odd egg in a cardinal nest. I suspect it is a Brown-headed Cowbird. Can I destroy the egg?

I understand the frustration and dislike of cowbird’s egg dumping technique, but the answer is still “NO”. Brown-headed Cowbirds are a federally protected species like all native songbirds. The only three species you can “kill” without fear of prosecution are the House Sparrow, European Starling and the Rock Pigeon. Destroying an egg is the same as killing a bird in the eyes of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

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Q. How do you think the wet summer has affected bird populations?

Judging from the number of baby birds seen at bird feeder stations all summer, I suspect that most species of birds have done really well this summer. I think this is really important for birds and wildlife in general. This is following a run of a few hot dry summers where mortality of young birds had to be fairly high. The birds that we worry most about in wet summers are the ground nesters. Bobwhites, Prairie Chickens, Killdeer, etc. Their young are vulnerable to extented cool wet conditions if they occur at critical times in their development.

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