How do Birds Survive Winter?

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February 04, 2014; 8:30 AM

Do you ever wonder how the tiny birds hopping around your backyard and neighborhood stay warm during the winter? Weighing in at 10-25 grams - the weight of a few nickels - birds hardly seem like they're fit for frigid temperatures. But winter residents in chilly parts of the U.S. have some smart strategies for surviving the cold:

One of the regulars that visit the bird feeder daily - mourning dove just shakes his heed and all the snow falls off. From AccuWeather fan bird11

- Fill up on fat and calories. As far as a bird's concerned, calorie-rich and fatty foods like sunflower seeds, nuts and suet are the best for providing energy to stay warm.

- Find reliable water sources. Melting snow and ice for water uses up calories and body heat, so finding a reliable source of fresh, clean water is key. Heated bird baths make life much easier during winter.

- Find shelter. Evergreen trees, brush piles, birdhouses and roost boxes provide a respite from wind and cold.

- Fluff those feathers. Feathers help trap heat close to a bird's body to maintain warmth.

Some birds can even enter "regulated hypothermia" to reduce calorie burn and conserve energy during cold weather. Black-capped chickadees - familiar winter feeder visitors - can drop their body temperature by as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit at night! They also shiver to generate heat, which gets trapped in those fluffy feathers.

Give feathered friends a hand this winter by adding food and water sources to your yard, then sit back and enjoy some winter birdwatching. Providing a variety of feeders and foods will attract different species of birds - try suet, cracked corn, seeds and nuts. Once a few birds find your feast, others will likely follow. Providing a water source will also attract birds. Use a heated bird bath or place a bath in a sunny area where it's less likely to freeze over. Don't forget to clean feeders and baths regularly to prevent spreading disease, and remove old, wet seed that can breed bacteria.

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