You watch the weather forecast, gear up with hat, coat, scarf and gloves, but you still get cold after just a short time in the snow and wind. If it’s such a challenge for humans to stay warm outside, how do birds―especially the little delicate guys like chickadees and titmice―survive the single-digit temperatures and whipping winds of winter?
It turns out that birds (even the little guys) aren’t so delicate after all, and they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeve (uh, wing), too.
Their first layer of defense against the cold is their outer-most one: feathers. There’s a good reason why people love down-filled winter coats―feathers are fantastic insulation.
“Feathers are incredibly specialized structures that serve many purposes including, for many species, keeping them warm,” says Peter Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo.