How are birds coping with the extreme cold? Part 2

The unusually cold temperatures being reported across the nation may prove deadly to some birds, according to a recent press release issued by the American Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups.

(I received this press release a day after publishing the blog post, “How are birds coping with the extreme cold?” in which I spoke with Brad Allen, Bird Group Leader at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, about how Maine’s wintering birds might be dealing with the recent subzero temperatures. To read that post, click here.)

Courtesy of by Susan Dolloff  A bluejay eats seeds in South Rumford, Maine on Dec. 27, 2013.

Courtesy of by Susan Dolloff
A bluejay eats seeds in South Rumford, Maine on Dec. 27, 2013.

“Birds can survive the kind of severe weather we are seeing, but only if they get needed food and water,” ABC conservation biologist Dr. Daniel Lebbin said in the Jan. 7 press release. “Their ability to stay warm in frigid temperatures requires them to eat sufficient food.”

Due to ice and snow buildup, some birds are flying farther south than normal in search of open water and sources of food, according to the conservancy. For example, waterfowl, such as ducks, geese, swans and mergansers normally travel farther south to find ice-free water.

The drastic weather isn’t expected to significantly affect wild bird populations, Lebbin said, but the cold snap will prove fatal to a number of birds.

“The impacts of the intense cold are complex,” Lebbin said in the press release. “But there is no question that there will be mortality for birds and other wildlife. It is a part of nature. How much mortality will be a function of the intensity of the freeze, how long it lasts, and the birds’ condition. Providing food and water might help some birds better survive this deep chill.”

Courtesy of Susan Dolloff

Courtesy of Susan Dolloff

People can help local birds by providing ice-free water and extra food in bird feeders and on the ground. In addition to typical birdseed, consider offering suet and fruit for birds that don’t normally eat seeds.

“Water is just as important as food, if not more so,” he said. “By providing warm water frequently, or installing a bird-bath heater, people can help the birds out substantially during severe weather events.”

Looking to the future, homeowners can cater to birds year-round by planting native trees and shrubs that will provide food and shelter, Lebbin suggested.

To learn more about the American Bird Conservancy, visit

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at