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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  • 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
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cleaned...so cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018