How are you alive? It’s -35

The Great Backyard Bird Count is on!

When it’s super cold outdoors, like it was on Monday morning, even the sight and sound of a sparrow is a bit of a wonder.

Why didn’t I see dead bird bodies left and right when I strode down the sidewalk on Monday afternoon? But I didn’t and the chirp of a sparrow and its hurried flight from tree to feeder was extremely encouraging.

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On such a morning, I’m relieved that most birds perform the amazing feat of flying thousands of miles.

They leave their homes to fly over borders, no immigration or COVID tests, into the south where many of us would like to be right now.

But we aren’t. We’re staying, along with our northern little birds like chickadees, sparrows, some woodpeckers, jays, doves, magpies and big black ravens. And in the country, varieties of prairie chickens. (I may have inadvertently neglected to mention a bird species, and I apologize in advance.)

We rush through our outdoor moments, but how does a tiny sparrow survive days like we have just endured?

Bird expert Bernd Heinrich ( says there are two problems that must be solved simultaneously for our little bird friends to make it through winter.

“The first is maintaining an elevated body temperature—generally about 105°F for birds—in order to stay active… The second problem to be surmounted in winter is finding food. For most birds, food supplies become greatly reduced in winter just when food is most required as fuel for keeping them warm.”

While I have two layers on my legs, their little stick-legs and feet are bare. Here’s what happens:

“Their feet cool down to near freezing, close to 30°F.… they would not feel uncomfortable until the point when damage occurs from freezing (ice crystal formation).”

After this glimpse into the wonders of birds, you might consider taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  It’s an annual four-day event that engages bird enthusiasts of all ages around the world in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. Anyone can participate, from beginners to experts. Count for as little as 15 minutes on a single day, or for as long as you like each day of the event.

It’s free, fun, and easy – and it helps the birds! The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon with Canadian partner Birds Canada.

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