Sunday, February 04, 2007

more brr

This black capped chickadee is utilizing several strategies to keep warm in this bout of subzero weather we've been having. Some have said, and I can't remember exactly where I've heard this, that according to the laws of physics, chickadees should not be able to survive extremely cold weather. Obviously, this bird is not a law student.
One, it is eating. Luckily it is part of a flock that has found a reliable seed source (that would be me). The chicks get the bonus of what to them is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get the bonus of being able to watch them from my somewhat climate-controlled shelter.
Two, it is fluffed out to the max. Those down feathers, with their amazing air-pocket trapping capacities, are the equivalent of a good down comforter or parka. Goose, that is, not chickadee.
Three, it is sitting in the sunlight, in an area sheltered from the wind. Microclimate makes all the difference. I wonder if the black cap helps it to absorb more heat from the sun in its cranial area.
Four, it spent the night roosting, probably in an old woodpecker nest in a dead tree (leave 'em standing!), with a bunch of other chickadees. The bent tail feathers I see on some individuals attest to the fact that when it comes to sleepover parties, the more the merrier. The tail feathers sometimes get bent when things get crowded, but all benefit from the body heat and retention from all that chickadee down. But body heat isn't everything; I have heard chickadees can drop their internal temperature at night to save energy.
We humans have slightly different adaptive strategies. We build unnaturally shaped rectangular domiciles and fill the walls with glass fiber fluff. We burn wood inside these shelters, and even sometimes bottles of liquid propane. Sometimes both at the same time. We put on warm clothing. KIDS--REPEAT--WE PUT ON WARM CLOTHING!! Today we even took a few further adaptive measures, like putting plastic on the three porch windows that we'd been too lazy to do before. And The Hermit had to fix the propane heater, which somehow had gotten polluted by some foreign plastic object that somehow got in there. Both measures had measurable effects; I'm not freezing sitting here at the computer and the temperature at about 10 feet up in the main room topped 100. Again, microclimate is everything; on the floor under the bunk bed, a can of pop will still freeze.


the dharma bum said...

deb - fascinating. i didn't know any of that about chickadees, now i do, and it's just amazing.

stay warm!

Floridacracker said...

I didn't have a clue about chickadee winter survival strategy either. Thanks!

48 here, down to 32 by morn.

Deb said...

Well, if you're a small bird, this stuff has to be built in. And FC, please don't do that! I would be out in my skivvies if we had those temps here. :)

Lynne said...

Ooh-I like that picture of the fluffed out chickadee. Funny coincidence, the morning after I read this post I saw 5-6 chickadees come squirting out of one of my backyard birdhouses! Too cool! I never thought about them roosting in there!
Stay warm up there! from down here in the balmy Twin Cities! :)

Madcap said...

Out in your skivvies! I've only heard one person use that expression before - is it common in your area?

Love the chickadees, as usual. My favourite.

Happy hearts to you if I don't get around again for a bit. XO to you and yours.