by Sandy Garland, quoting OFNC’s Bob Cermak and teacher Stephen McRae, photos from Brooke Valley School copied here with permission

It all started with a routine question to the OFNC:

Hello, I am a 2nd grade teacher at a small private school outside of Perth, Ont. We are doing a unit on birds and have a bird feeder that we use to record the types of birds. Last week we saw four robins in a tree nearby and we wondered why they would still be here in January? Would you know to whom to direct such questions?

Stephen McRae
Brooke Valley School

The OFNC gets many such questions. Those classified as sightings are forwarded to Derek Dunnett now, but Greg Zbitnew handled them for several years and Chris Lewis for many years before that. Requests for identification have gone to a number of Birds Committee members. General questions about birds go to the the chair of the committee. Over the years, Chris Traynor and now Bob Cermak have provided eloquent answers to the most obscure questions, sometimes originating from thousands of miles outside the Ottawa region.

I confidently forwarded the teacher’s question to Bob, and here’s what he wrote back:

Hello Stephen,
Cold temperatures don’t hurt most birds, as long as they have food. Regardless of how cold it is on the outside of their feathers, their body temperature under the feathers is about 104 degrees. However, in prolonged very cold weather, bare parts of their bodies, such as beak, legs and feet, if exposed (they sleep with these parts against their bodies tucked under their feathers) will freeze and the bird will likely perish.

All robins are not the same. The vast majority of robins do move south in the winter; however, some stick around in northern locations.

Robins will linger awhile or stay all winter as long as there is some food available even if it is barely adequate food. This winter there is some food available such as Common Buckthorn (a starvation food for birds. They eat buckthorn berries only when food sources are low, especially in late winter), apples and grapes.

This article is interesting, I don’t have the picture(s).

Hope this was helpful,
OFNC Director and Chair Birds Committee

Several weeks later, we received another message from Stephen:

Hello Bob, thank you very much for getting back to us about why the robins might still be around. It was very helpful. A great way to introduce a discussion on how birds have adapted to survive. At the end of the class each student was able to chose a head, beak, tail, and feet to compose their own bird. Next they will write why they chose each feature and why their bird would thrive.

Thanks again for your help
Brooke Valley School

And the final piece in our story is the wonderful images of birds that Stephen’s students created based on what they learned about their ability to survive winter.

Big thanks to the students of Brooke Valley School for sharing their birds. And big thanks to our Birds Committee for contributing to the nature education of the youngest generation – and grownups too.