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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