do birds hibernate or migrate

The winter season can be quite a knockout! From torrential downpours in the west to snow and ice in the east – everyone is up against some fierce competition dodging the elements. Every time we head outdoors, we need to consult the weather to ensure we’re properly bundled from head to toe in the necessary hats, jackets, footwear and other accessories that make winter tolerable. But you don’t see birds donning scarves or snuggling under blankets – so, how do our little, feathered friends manage?

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Though precise body temperatures differ among species, the body temperature of all wild birds is higher than that of humans. It makes sense that cold weather can make it harder to keep those temperatures high, particularly for young or frail birds. Fortunately, birds can adapt and rely on their instincts to survive the winter, just like other wildlife can. One obvious way that birds survive the winter is through migration. But as you’ll see from the many birds that remain in your backyard long after the first snowfall, not all species do so. These are four additional ways that birds adjust to the shifting wintertime environment:

Birds naturally huddle together to stay warm in the winter. Yes, their down feathers give them plenty of additional warmth, which is needed when the temperature drops. So, feathers serve a purpose other than just being decorative. In order to better prepare for winter, many birds will even grow additional down feathers in the months before.

Wet feathers can prove disastrous in cold weather. The secret to birds’ ability to stay dry during the wet winter months is found in their oil-producing glands. To make their down feathers waterproof and insulated, they preen and apply this oil to them. Furthermore, birds frequently fluff their feathers to form air pockets that retain body heat and keep them warm.

Birds have several food-related strategies to help them throughout winter. As one might expect, there are fewer natural food sources available during the winter. Similar to how people might stock up on bread and milk before a big storm (French toast, anyone? ), birds try to prepare for this by storing food while the weather is still warm. Black-capped Chickadees, for example, have the ability to recall hundreds of locations in which they have kept food so they can locate it quickly at a later time.

Changing their diet is another way that birds adapt to the winter. When the temperature drops, most birds will choose higher energy foods like black oil sunflower seed and suet. Birds are able to produce more body heat in order to stay warm due to the additional energy boost.

Certain bird species enter a state of torpor during the winter, while many other animals hibernate. Birds can lower their body temperature and heart rate in this hibernation-like state in order to preserve body heat. Similar to hibernation, it enables them to withstand the bitterly cold winter months. However, because their reaction times are slower in this seemingly lifeless state, they may be more susceptible to predators and other emergencies.


In 2010, determined America’s Top 10 Worst Winter Weather Cities by calculating the average annual temperature, average precipitation and average snowfall of the country’s 50 largest cities over a 30-year period. While this doesn’t take less populous areas of the country into account, it’s a good indicator of which states face the most extreme conditions (i.e. the places that are harshest for birds in winter). Some of the cities on the list may surprise you:

  • Cleveland, OH
  • Boston, MA
  • New York City, NY
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Chicago, IL
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Columbus, OH
  • Detroit, MI
  • Baltimore, MD

Other places that the Farmer’s Almanac frequently mentions as having severe winters are Casper, Wyoming; Duluth, Minnesota; and Syracuse, New York. Living in these places means you should take extra precautions to support the local birds. There are many ways to be of assistance, and the birds in your area will undoubtedly be grateful.


Does a bird hibernate?

Unlike reptiles, their closest relatives, birds don’t usually hibernate because they have an excellent means of transportation that enables them to overwinter in warmer climes where food is available. Just one bird species is known to fully hibernate: the common poorwill, a North American nightjar species.

Do the birds migrate?

Birds migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations. Here’s more about how migration evolved.

What do birds do in the winter?

Roosting and cuddling Similar to people who may cuddle for warmth, small birds like tree swallows crowd together in shrubs, vines and evergreen trees to share body heat. They can also slow down their metabolic rate to conserve energy.

What birds do not migrate?

Which birds do not migrate? The list of non-migrating birds includes some specific, well-known species – Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals – and also includes large groups of birds including black birds, chickadees, doves, finches, nuthatches, sparrows and woodpeckers.