A Search for Environmental Cues Used by Birds in Survival of Cold Winters

  • Cynthia Carey
  • William R. Dawson
Part of the Current Ornithology book series (CUOR, volume 15)


Winter can offer an assortment of difficulties for passerines and other small terrestrial birds (body mass: <100g, and in many instances <25 g) that reside in continental climates at higher latitudes. In that season, shortened days, diminishing and perhaps unpredictable food supplies, and inclement weather all present special challenges for foraging and acquiring energy. Caching of food assists some species in meeting these challenges (Pravosudov and Grubbs, 1997). On the other hand, the long hours of cold winter nights at higher latitudes create a need for rapid energy expenditure. Although isolated reports suggest that certain species can forage under low light intensities (Reinertsen and Haftorn, 1986; Prescott, 1985; Brooks, 1968), the majority of small birds—preponderantly diurnal animals—must undertake prolonged nightly fasts while supporting high rates of cold-induced regulatory thermogenesis. Under such circumstances, certain species can, to a limited extent, husband their energy reserves by resorting to shallow nocturnal hypothermia (Reinertsen, 1996). Additionally, many small birds spend the night in protected microclimates created by cavities or foliage, and some species conserve energy by huddling (see Marsh and Dawson, 1989). Nevertheless, cold winter conditions apparently can be a source of significant mortality for small birds (Fretwell, 1972; see also Section 4.1).


Cold Resistance Winter Survival Winter Storm Small Bird House Finch 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia Carey
    • 1
  • William R. Dawson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology and Museum of ZoologyThe University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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