Winter wings

Although not a birder, I love to watch the birds that overwinter on the Eastern Shore. LMR cardinal 2Feathers puffed against the cold for insulation, they bravely meet the wintry months with song. Even their names are imbued with a certain lyricism: mourning dove, quail, towhee, wren, nuthatch, finch, chickadee, jay, and grosbeak, to name a few.

While feathers do a fine job of insulating, how do birds keep their legs warm in cold weather? A few species, such as owls, have feathered legs, but most do not. You may spy these birds standing on one leg or puffing their feathers over their feet to keep warm.

Finding food is a constant challenge for birds in winter. Beginning in fall, many will form flocks to better find food and protect themselves from predators. Insect-eating birds will switch to a berry- and seed-based diet, seeking out energy-rich food to maintain their high metabolic rate.

photos by Leah M. Reynolds

photos by Leah M. Reynolds

Adkins Arboretum has bird feeders both in front of and behind the Visitor’s Center. On the chilliest winter days, visitors need hardly leave the building to enjoy a feathery show.  Birds are sure to be found in the meadow as well, with its sheltering thickets and bounty of sumac, rose hips, and seeds. Cold weather enthusiasts will also enjoy a walk along the forest’s edge, where last year’s nests are finally revealed amid winter’s bare branches.

Do you know a nature-loving homeschooler? The Arboretum’s Winter Naturalists program for homeschoolers ages 8 to 12 meets on Fridays from 1 to 2:30 p.m., beginning January 23. Click here for more information or to register.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

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