By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum
One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was the gift of a new mattress. I was pondering the other day, as I just woke up from a long winter night’s sleep, what is a night’s sleep like for a bird? How do they keep themselves warm? How do they survive such cold temperatures? Do they nest? Find other places to sleep? Whatever they do, a bird’s sleep could not compare to the comfort and warmth of my new memory foam bed!
Many people assume that birds use their nests during the winter, but a nest is a baby’s crib, something to be used during the spring rather than winter. However, some birds do use our human-made bird houses to sleep in for the night. Birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other species curl up inside tree cavities for cover and heat. Many owls and other cavity-nesters find their favorite tree holes. Other birds crowd together in whatever nooks or crannies they find.
Our favorite, cheery goldfinches, sleep in thick evergreens, as do some sparrows, crossbills, snow buntings, and sometimes the chickadee. Songbirds such as blue jays and cardinals find dense thickets in which to sleep within. Crows and turkeys roost in trees. Crows sit close to the branches in their roost, feathers covering their feet, tucking their heads beneath their wings.
Some birds that prefer open fields will burrow into snow holes to escape the wind and cold. Ruffed grouse will dive down from the aspens in which they feed during the day to the deeper snow below, allowing the snow to insulate them from the colder night temperatures.
Some ducks sleep in icy water. Bobwhites sleep on the ground, heads facing outward to conserve body heat while protecting them from other dangers.
Wherever a bird sleeps, its first protection is from its feathers. Feathers repel water and insulate birds’ bodies from the cold. Using muscles, birds can raise or lower each feather, fluffing them to create warm air spaces. Burying their heads and feet also reduces heat loss.
Occasionally as I take a walk at dusk around the house I will pick up on the commotion as birds are settling in for the night. I keep my eyes open for the birds as they are getting ready for sleep. I wish for them sweet dreams and success throughout the night, and I appreciate my cozy warm home just that much more!
For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs.