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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Feathers and the Body Heat of Birds

As humans, it can be hard for us to see Big Red and Ezra huddled in the snow (and we know it snows in Ithaca, right?) incubating their precious eggs without wondering if these birds are cold.

GrandmaLynn posted some helpful information for us from Thor Hanson's book, Feathers, The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. Here is a brief excerpt from her summary:

  • Birds have a faster metabolism than we do, so their body temp is warmer to begin with. And, unlike us, they can’t sweat; so keeping cool is a greater problem for birds than keeping warm.
  • “No vertebrates … maintain a higher metabolism and generate more heat than birds.” (Hanson, p. 107)
  • Feathers are the world’s best insulation material.
  • The beak tuck while sleeping probably helps conserve heat, since the blood veins in the beak are one of the ways a bird moves heat to an unfeathered surface to cool off.
  • It’s not the oil on the feathers which makes them waterproof, but the structure of the feathers themselves.

Thank you GrandmaLynn!



Hanson, Thor. Feathers, The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.


Post idea submission by CaroleA1