Do Birds Hibernate? The Answer May Surprise You

birds hibernate, hibernation

A Clark’s nutcracker.

Birds use many different strategies to survive the cold winters of the Rocky Mountains.  Do you know if any birds hibernate all winter?

I have been writing a lot of posts recently about the different terms for animals entering a state of rest over winter.  Some of these include hibernation, torpor, and brumation.  Certain terms refer mainly to certain kinds of animals, such as brumation for reptiles.  This got me wondering about the term hibernation and if there are any birds that hibernate.  The answer surprised me as I found that yes, there is one kind of bird that hibernates, but not in the Rocky Mountains.

birds hibernateWhat Is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a survival strategy, mainly used by mammals, to survive the cold, snowy winters when there is a lack of food available.  During hibernation an animal has a lower heart rate, body temperature, and reduced metabolism.  This is all done in an effort to keep the animal from using too much energy.  For more about hibernation read this old post.

Do Birds Hibernate?

Mostly no.  For the most parts birds do not hibernate because they have adapted other strategies for surviving the cold winters, such as migration.  Many kinds of birds do not leave the Rocky Mountains during the winter, such as the black capped chickadees.  These birds that overwinter in the Rockies have a number of other strategies that they use to survive the cold winters.

However, there is one bird that is known to hibernate.  The common poorwill is a true hibernator.

birds hibernate

A common poorwill.  Photo via Flickr.

About The Common Poorwill

This bird lives in the western USA states of California and New Mexico, not actually the Rocky Mountains.  It is a nocturnal bird that hunts for insects at night.  During the cold winters there simply aren’t many insects around at night.  Thus, if this bird were to be looking for food at night during the winter it would find nothing.  This led to its strategy to go into rocky crevices and enter a state of hibernation.