How do animals stay warm in winter?

Fox curled up in the snow and looking at the camera
Animals do a great job of keeping cozy, find out how! (Photo: Andy Rouse/NaturePL)

So far, this winter has been unusually mild, you might have even noticed more wildlife out and about. But, if the forecast is right, it looks like we’re heading for another cold snap before the winter’s out. Luckily our native species have lots of clever ways to stay toasty and survive the freezing weather.

How do birds keep warm in winter?

As winter approaches, birds grow lots of fluffy new feathers – some can have 70% more feathers in winter than in summer. Feathers have a slightly oily coating which helps keep them waterproof, and birds also fluff them up to trap warm air between the layers.

At night, many birds find a cosy and sheltered place to sleep. Some bird species huddle together in a communal roost to keep warm. You may have seen a starling murmuration, the spectacular sight of thousands of starlings swarming together as they prepare to roost for the night. Other birds, such as rooks, ravens and wrens, like to snuggle up together too.

An extra layer of fat helps keep birds warm so they gobble up as much food as they can in the autumn, and during winter days. You can help them out by making some fat maggot bird feed?.

Robin on a frosty branch
Look out for particularly round robins with their special winter coats. (Photo: Bob Carter/WTML)

How do amphibians survive the winter?

Frogs, toads and newts are cold-blooded so their body temperature matches the temperature of their environment. They’ll often sleep through most of the winter in the mud at the bottom of a pond where it doesn’t freeze, or in rock piles or compost heaps on land. This is called brumation.

How do mammals keep warm in winter?

Mammals like foxes, badgers and squirrels grow a warm winter coat so they’re extra furry in winter. And, just like birds, they fatten themselves up to prepare for the colder weather. In winter, lots of animals like dormice and hedgehogs spend more time sleeping in their cosy winter nests so they can save energy. This is called torpor – it’s sort of half way to hibernation.

Red squirrel peeking out from behind a tree trunk
Head out to the woods to see signs of animals popping out to find a winter snack. (Photo: Mark Hamblin/NaturePL)

How do hibernating animals stay warm?

In the UK, the only animals that really hibernate are the hedgehog, dormouse and bat. During hibernation, their body temperature drops and breathing and heart rate slow right down. This means they use much less energy.

However, they can freeze to death if they get too cold. To avoid this, they fatten themselves up to prepare for hibernation, and then find a cosy nest to curl up in. If their temperature drops too low, they start shivering, which wakes them up so they can find a warmer den and have a snack.

Do insects feel the cold too?

Yes, insects are sensitive to the cold. Some insects go into a state of torpor, just like mammals, and sleep through much of the winter. Insects that do this include solitary bees, ladybirds, and some types of butterfly. But other minibeasts just get on with their business as their habitat in leaf litter or tree bark shields them from the worst of the weather.

If your little ones love finding out all about nature and wildlife, then why not sign up for Nature Detectives Membership? Each season, you’ll receive a pack of exciting outdoor activity ideas, nature-themed crafts, and lots of fascinating information about woods and the creatures that live in them.

How do you keep warm in winter?

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