Winter Bird Observations

Frost and snow tend to spark lots of questions.

  • How cold are the squirrel’s feet?
  • How does the fox find any food?
  • How does the robin stay warm?

A frosty morning may look pretty but winter is a challenging time for birds. Finding a snug place on a cold winter’s night seems like a difficult task and children’s heads may be filled with worrying questions.

Some questions are filled with magic and wonder while others are filled with dark and worrying thoughts. Learning to recognise the underlying reason for a question is important. Exploring possibilities and thinking about possible solutions can help to reduce the worry.

The good news is that birds have temperature-regulating mechanisms to keep body temperatures at suitable constant levels. If we think about what humans do when it is cold outside we may see similar behaviour in nature. Humans may wear a thick scarf over our nose when it is cold outside. When it is colder a bird will fluff up the feathers, place the head under the feathers and sometimes huddling with other individuals. Just like the birds on the photo above.


Some birds look for natural cavities, loose bark and tree trunks while other may insulate their nests using thick vegetation. Yet the body heat may be lost when it is cold and not all places are equally warm. And when a bird gets cold, it needs to eat more to keep warm.

So there are plenty of things that we can do to help birds when it is cold outside. smaller birds, like the robins in our garden, are more susceptible to the cold night. A bird-table can help them survive.

When is the best time to fill up the bird-table?

Well, no one wants to go to bed on an empty stomach or go the school on an empty stomach. Dawn and dusk are great times to fill up the bird-table.

The underlying thinking here seems to be the opposite to being inspired by nature, here we are inspired by our own behaviour to understand animals:-)

Featured photo
Swallows in a snowstorm. Photo © Keith Williams through a Creative Commons license

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