How do Birds Stay Warm in Winter?

It is cold outside during winter in the Rocky Mountains and before my owner takes me outside for a walk he always grabs a nice, warm coat.  That coat keeps him warm during the cold temperatures. Luckily for me I don’t need to put on a coat since I am already wearing a nice coat of fur.

I wonder how other animals stay warm during winter?  What about  birds?  I know that in the fall there are a lot of birds that go south for winter – so their strategy to stay warm is to migrate.  But, not all birds migrate.  How do those birds that stay in the Rocky Mountains during winter stay warm?  Here is a fun nature fact for you.

seasons birds fluffing winter

A bird fluffing in winter to keep warm.


One way that birds stay warm is by fluffing.  You may have seen a bird sitting on a tree branch that looked like all of its feathers were puffed out.  Fluffing is simply that – a bird fluffs out all of its feathers.  They do this because feathers are great insulation, meaning that they hold in warm air. When birds fluff they are creating more room for their down feathers to hold air.  The more air that those down feathers hold the warmer they are able to make themselves.

When birds fluff, they are basically putting on their puffy jacket that is full of down feathers.  My owner does the exact same thing, except he actually puts on a puffy, down jacket to stay warm.  His jacket is filled with those same down feathers that keep birds warm when they fluff.


Another strategy that many birds take to keep warm is to huddle together with many other birds.  This is basically many birds gathering together to keep warm.  Birds sometimes huddle together along a branch (they form a line) or they huddle together in a large mass such as the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica.

Tuck up one leg 

Birds’ legs are not covered in feathers and are very thin.  As such they get cold much easier than the rest of their body.  To keep their legs warm, birds sometimes will stand on one leg and tuck the other one up into their body in the warm feathers.  If a bird is really cold you may see it sitting somewhere crouched down low so that it’s feathers cover both of its feet.  Birds do this in order to keep both feet inside the warm feathers.

bird black capped chickadee small

Black Capped Chickadee

Can go into Torpor at Night

Some birds, like Chickadees, have a special adaptation to stay warm on those super cold nights – they enter a sleep like state called torpor.  During torpor their body temperature drops (about 15-20 degrees),  their metabolism slows down, and they have a lower heart rate.  They are in a deep sleep that helps them use less energy during the night.  Then in the morning they wake up and everything returns to normal.