Adaptations for Winter Survival by Chickadees
All small warm-blooded creatures have difficulty maintaining their body temperatures in freezing weather, so many birds fly south for the winter. So how do non-migrating chickadees manage to stay alive?
To begin with, they have several physical adaptations – including dense plumage to retain warmth, shivering to generate heat, and the ability to survive reduced body temperatures – that enable them to survive freezing conditions. Chickadees also adapt their behavior in several ways. They travel less in cold weather and are more likely to center their activities around rich food sources, such as feeders.
Two ornithologists at the University of Wisconsin studied banded populations of chickadees for three years, comparing the survival rates of those that had access to sunflower seed feeders with those that depended solely on natural foods. They found that nearly twice as many of the chickadees with access to feeders survived the winter. The difference in survival rates was most dramatic during months when temperatures dropped below zero on more than five days. So, as the temperature drops this winter, be sure to feed your chickadees!