How Chickadees Stay Warm
I had never given much thought to how a tiny bird could survive the extremely cold temperatures of the Gunflint Trail. I often see Black Capped Chickadees feeding all day long at our feeders but I never wondered where they went at night. It turns out the Chickadee is an amazing bird that can stay warm enough to survive even during the coldest of nights.
To survive during below zero temperatures all species need to adapt and prepare for the extreme environment. As humans when we get cold we go inside, turn the heat up or toss another log on the fire and we’re warm. Some animals grow a thicker fur coat, hibernate, or rely on their large amounts of brown fat. Birds do not produce brown fat but they do have feathers that provide good insulation. When these feathers are puffed out away from the bird’s body it creates air pockets that will hold their heat in. Chickadees are seldom seen huddling together for warmth whereas other mammals will do this to keep warm. Wolves and fox are often seen with their tail wrapped around their body and their head tucked underneath their arm. Birds will sometimes stick their head beneath their wing for warmth but the Black Capped Chickadee does something else; it will enter a state of nocturnal or regulatory hypothermia to survive.
Chickadees can lower their body temperature during inactive periods of time in order to conserve their heat. When their body heat is lowered the amount of energy needed to stay warm is reduced. Also, the closer their body temperature is to the outside temperature the easier it is to maintain their body heat. The Chickadee will shiver in order to make just enough heat to keep their body temperature at the hypothermic state. The body temperature of a bird is around 106-108 degrees and they can amazingly drop their body temperature 18-22 degrees. (Learn more at this website)
Any animal that can adjust to outdoor life at below zero temperatures is awe-inspiring. I have a new respect for the Black Capped Chickadee and will be sure to help this tiny creature find enough food during the day so it will have enough energy to make it through the night.