Will these winter storms affect birds that have come north?
We had a call yesterday that someone found a dead robin.
Talking to a local birder, a friend of his found a group of eastern phoebes that had all died.
The birds that stay in Iowa through the winter are adapted at finding food, but those that migrate and come back to find spring storm after spring storm may have troubles finding food. Robins typically eat earthworms, insects and fruit, but with more than a foot of snow on the ground, they will struggle to find food. Purple martins have also been spotted in the area, and their diet usually consists of flying insects including beetles, flied, dragonflies, damselflies and other species that are not out as the Midwest gets pelted with snow yet again.
(The osprey are back too! They are doing fine in the snow so far.)
However, people can help bird species get through these last few --- hopefully --- storms of the season. Keep your bird feeders full, as birds that typically don't stop at feeders, like robins, may use those as a last ditch effort at upping their calorie intake. You can also put out fatty offerings such as shelled peanuts, raisins, dried mealworms or even crickets to help species like purple martins.
Birds are unusually good at getting through storms though. We all know Iowa has freak weather that comes up each spring, and if it killed off the birds, we wouldn't have any left. There are plenty of ways that birds can get through storm season, even without the help of humans.
Birds take advantage of micro-habitats. They look for small hideaways --- crooks in a tree opposite of the wind, inside thick hedges, close to the ground away from the wind. We also talked about a trait in our "Feeding the Trumpeter Swans" video called counter-current exchange, which is how swan feet don't get cold on the ice and bird feet don't get cold on the wet ground. In birds, arteries with warm blood from the heart go past the arteries running cold blood from the feet, exchanging heat. This cools the blood going into the feet so heat isn't lost and warms blood going back to the heart.
Bird feathers are also an extremely important trait. Feathers trap air, preventing cold air from getting to the skin. The fluffier the feathers, the better the insulation. Take a look outside, and I bet all the birds you see will be puffed up to about twice their normal size.
So, yes, we will probably see some avian casualties from these storms. Yet, most birds will be able to make it through, and if you're worried about them, set out a little extra food while we wait for this latest snow to melt away into spring.
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