Feb 12, 2015 | Featured Web Article

Itty-Bitty Bird Feet

Nature has a clever way of keeping birds' feet warm and functional. It's called the rete mirabile, or miraculous net.
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"Won't birds freeze their little feet off on the metal perches of my feeders? It's 20 degrees below zero, and there they are, sitting on freezing metal perches! How do they do it?"

We have to confess, we're in awe of a creature weighing little more than a first-class letter, surviving in winter's howling blizzards. First, they keep their furnaces stoked. That's where you come in. Tote those bags, stoke those feeders. Second, bird feet aren't like human feet. They're little more than bone and sinew and scale, not very richly supplied with nerves, so they don't feel the cold quite as much. But nature has a clever way of keeping them warm and functional, when you'd think they'd freeze off. It's called the rete mirabile, or miraculous net. Warm blood flowing from the heart comes in the arteries, which are interwoven in a fine netlike pattern with the veins, carrying cold blood from the toes. This system warms the cold blood from the extremities before it gets to the heart, and keeps bird feet warm without batteries or mukluks. Because bird feet lack sweat glands, they stay dry, and they won't freeze to the perches, we promise.

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  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018
  • I had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018