Do birds get cold feet?

  • Article by: VAL CUNNINGHAM , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: March 8, 2011 - 2:52 PM
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A male cardinal pauses on a snow-covered dogwood branch while searching for food during a wet and heavy snowfall.

Photo: Pat Wellenbach, Associated Press

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Q Birds don't have feathers on their legs, so why don't their legs and feet freeze in the winter?

A Even though their feet and legs aren't protected by insulating feathers, birds seldom suffer frostbite in their extremities. Look at birds on a very cold day and you may observe some with one foot tucked into belly feathers, or they settle down over their legs and feet to keep them warm. Bird feet and legs lack fleshy muscle and have a limited nerve structure and blood supply, all protections against freezing. Mourning doves, however, aren't well adapted to cold and may lose some toes during a cold winter.

Easy eagles

Q Some friends want me to go to Red Wing to view bald eagles, but I'm hoping I can see them closer to home.

A There are quite a few bald eagles spending the winter near open water in the Twin Cities. One spot that's fairly reliable is Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul. It has plowed trails that lead toward the sewage treatment plant's outfall, where the water is always open. On a recent Monday, six to eight bald eagles were visible from this park. For a map and directions, visit www.nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/kaposialanding.htm.

Horned larks

Q We live out in the country and I recently saw some horned larks out in a field. Is it unusual to see these birds at this time of year?

A Many of these small birds of open country spend the winter in our area, and others are starting to move through on migration. It's fun to watch a flock swirl away from the roadside, then return to almost the same spot after vehicles pass by. Named for the tuft of feathers above each eye, these larks sing a sweet, tinkly song.

Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, bird surveyor and field trip leader, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.
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