Gray jays on Mt. Field
Happy Kodi atop windswept Mt. Avalon, without extra clothing!
To stay warm in our northern winters, birds shiver, limit their exposure to wind, and huddle together. Birds can reduce the blood flow to their exposed legs and feet to reduce heat loss (I’d like to have that adaptation, but then I’d have scaly legs). They also tuck their bills into their shoulder feathers. Often you’ll see birds sunning themselves; mourning doves commonly sit on a branch in our yard absorbing the afternoon sun. Perhaps most importantly, birds fluff up their feathers to create insulating air pockets, much like we wear a puffy down jacket.
Lastly, birds must eat, almost constantly in winter. The cute and curious gray jays eat just about anything: insects, berries, seeds, lichens, small mammals, nestlings, and of course raisins and nuts and other human foods. They eat dead things and are renowned as “camp robbers,” eating anything left out at a campsite. Gray jays have other curious winter adaptations. They begin nesting in mid-March, when the temperature is well below freezing. How that helps with survival in the north I don’t know. Gray jays have the largest salivary glands of any songbird; they use the sticky saliva to glue bits of food to tree branches, under bark, and elsewhere for later consumption and as a winter food cache. The dried cranberry that a gray jay took from our hiking friend’s hand might still be stuck to a spruce branch high atop Mt. Field, although apparently gray jays remember well where they cached their food.
A gray jay on Mt. Field flying in for a snack