If you are in need of a good warm winter coat and head toward your nearest sporting goods store, what filling might you look for?  Probably a down-filled coat, yes? 

Photo of a cardinal in winter by Skyler Ewing on Pexels.com

That is exactly what birds have – only they come by it naturally without having to shop around.

Yes, extreme cold temperatures can be hard on birds, but the birds that over- winter here in Evanston – among them cardinals, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, nuthatches, mourning doves, various woodpeckers and chickadees – have evolved methods of coping with the cold. 

For example, flocks of Juncos, who are here only in the winter, group together in overnight roosts. 

Juncos arrive around the end of September and stay in Evanston all winter. Credit: John Hess

A flock of eight juncos might shelter in an evergreen tree, always politely rotating their positions so that no one is on the outside all night and everyone gets a turn on the warmer inside. 

Chickadees may lower their body temperatures to save energy, going into a sort of hypothermia.

Heated bird baths do double-duty; they provide the necessary water for overwintering birds and bring the birds near enough for people to enjoy their antics.

To help birds through patches of extreme cold: If you are already feeding birds, keep it up, so that birds know where to find a source of food.

Water is extremely important for birds, so if you already have a heated bird bath, keep it filled. If you are a snowbird and go south for the winter, have faith that birds will find the feeders of those of us who tough it up in Evanston’s winter.

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.

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