If you've read this column before, you may already know that birds feet do not stick to metal perches, that feathers are great insulation, and that many migrators do so because their food is gone, not because it's cold.
BUT... Here in the winter of 2002-2003, you may be thinking, "Can the birds live with THIS kind of cold??" The answer, you may guess, is yes. Birds have high body temperatures, many small birds over 100 degrees! They do have to eat more to maintain those temperatures, but if they find enough food, then even sub-zero temperatures are not a big problem.
That is not to say that birds do night die of the extreme cold, it's just unusual, as it may be for a human being. We can help birds by providing those things that all living creatures need; habitat, shelter, water, and food.
Food is what started many people watching birds. Birds won't starve without our birdseed, but they sure appreciate the extra food, and the ease of finding it at a feeder. It's been said that a Chickadee will eat 50% MORE food on a below freezing day than on a 50 degree day! Being able to fly back and forth from the bush to the feeder is a big help to them.
Liquid water in these temperatures is rare, and birds will flock to it. Some to drink, but many more because they want a bath! A bird bath heater that is thermostatic is a big help, also. (no thermostat means the heater is on ALL THE TIME! this can cause various problems. E-mail me for details) Recently someone called my store to say they had just bought a heater for the first time, and had a Robin bathing the next day! A few Robins have been over-wintering on Long Isand for years now, but it's still a shock to see one when it's so cold!!
Those are just the basics on how birds handle the cold, if you'd like to know more, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, or just to let me know what you think of my column, I'd love to hear from you.
Ritch, the bird guy