Every day holds great potential to discover birds and experience the joys of birding. With leaves off the trees, winter is a great time to explore the natural world and look for birds.

Where can you find these fine feathered friends? Some birds, of course, will flock to feeders, but we also suggest looking on the ground and in grassy areas for sparrows or on tree trunks for woodpeckers. Some really unique birds can also show up at feeders, on trees or around parks and ponds, including pine siskins, cedar waxwings and belted kingfishers.

But what happens to birds when the temperatures start to drop and old man winter begins to show his face? Birds don’t have central heating or a wood stove to keep warm, but they do have several effective ways to survive cold winter days and nights:

  • Shelter in place. When bad weather hits, birds generally seek shelter in microhabitats, such as inside a thick hedge or on the downwind side of a tree. Hunkering down in these spots can protect them from wind, rain and even cold. Birds that nest in cavities, including woodpeckers, bluebirds and chickadees, can hide out in tree holes or nest boxes.
  • Beef up in advance. Fat birds have a better chance of surviving a storm. When birds sense changes in air pressure (a sign of brewing bad weather), they tend to forage more or flock to feeders.
  • Evolution has their backs. Birds have also evolved to withstand bad weather. Birds have cold blood in their feet, which means very little heat is lost when they are standing on cold ground. Their feathers are the perfect insulation—they are basically natural down jackets. The feathers underneath a bird’s contour feathers trap air, holding in the warmth from its body and preventing cold air from reaching its skin.

If you are looking for a fun opportunity to see what’s flying around this winter, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15, 2016. This annual, nationwide event engages more than 140,000 bird watchers of all ages and abilities to count birds and create real-time snapshots of their local bird populations and submit their sightings online. We highly recommend a good bird identification book and binoculars to make your birding easier and more accurate. Participants can then upload sightings from their backyard or anywhere around the world.

WildBirds_citizenscienceThe North Carolina Arboretum will host a special Great Backyard Bird Count event on Saturday, February 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Arboretum educators will host free, guided bird walks and will be onsite to help participants with their sightings and recordings. With its rich variety of plants and habitats, the Arboretum provides a great location for birding, with nearly 100 different species spotted there.

Whether it’s an organized affair or a casual afternoon stroll through the woods, go out and enjoy the birds this winter, or for that matter, all year long!

About Wild Birds Unlimited Asheville/Hendersonville

Owned by Heidi and Steve Muma, Wild Birds Unlimited is an Advocate-level Community Partner of The North Carolina Arboretum. Wild Birds Unlimited offers year-round support for the Arboretum’s youth education program, birding program and visitor bird guide.

Belted Kingfisher photo credit: Teddy Llovet