Snow Birds: Winter at Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Snow Birds: Winter at Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Eastern North Carolina was dealt record-breaking winter weather in recent years, with significant snowfall and long cold spells that saw temperatures plummeting below zero. While wild birds in North Carolina are equipped to handle such harsh conditions, Sylvan Heights Bird Park is home to many species that live in tropical areas around the world, and these birds require special care during extremely cold weather.

Just how much weather protection a bird needs depends on several factors, but the climate in its native range is normally the biggest indication of how well that species can tolerate cold. Some of the hardiest birds at Sylvan Heights are Arctic waterfowl. Trumpeter and Whooper Swans, Snow Geese, Red-breasted Geese, and Common Eiders are all quite comfortable when temperatures drop, relying on a thick layer of insulating down feathers to stay warm. These tough birds do not need any additional heat or shelter, and some seem to relish the cold and ice. Eiders have even been known to perform breeding displays on frozen ponds!

Even waterfowl from warmer climates can weather winter’s worst days in comfort thanks to one of the perks of living in North Carolina: the park’s ponds are fed by groundwater that stays near 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. So, although sections of the ponds may freeze over on chilly nights, large areas of open water near the source provide a warm overnight roosting spot and fresh drinking water.

Flamingos roost in the park’s relatively warm water during especially cold weather.

For long-legged birds that spend most of their time on land, frostbite is a real concern when snow starts falling. Catching these birds to bring them indoors can cause undue stress and risk injury, so Sylvan Heights aviculturists bring the warmth to them! Thick, insulating beds of straw are placed in each aviary, and temporary shelters with heat lamps may be added as well.

If you have visited Sylvan Heights Bird Park, you may have noticed small buildings attached to the side or back of some aviaries. These are winter shelters, and they are for our most cold-sensitive birds, like toucans, parrots, birds-of-paradise, and tropical pheasants. Each shelter can be heated and closed off as necessary to provide warmth and protection from wind and cold, and most birds don’t require much convincing to go inside once the temperature starts dropping! On warm days, the birds have access to the outdoors again to soak up the sun, which is essential to their overall health.

An Edwards’s Pheasant in a snowy aviary at Sylvan Heights Bird Park

Rest assured that Sylvan Heights’ bird keepers are working every day to ensure that the birds are warm and safe when the weather takes a turn for the worse. But did you know that you can also help the birds in your own backyard during extreme cold? By keeping backyard bird feeders full of highly nutritious foods, like black oil sunflower seeds, hulled peanuts, and suet, you can help birds stock up on much-needed calories when their natural food sources may be inaccessible under ice and snow. Open water also becomes scarce during extreme cold spells, so refilling your bird bath or a small dish with fresh water several times a day might mean the difference between life and death for a wild bird. Providing wind breaks and other sheltered areas around your feeder can give the birds a place to rest and warm up while they feed.  

Please note that while Sylvan Heights Bird Park is open year-round, the park can occasionally be closed during inclement weather for the safety of our visitors.  In the event of significant ice or snowfall in Eastern North Carolina, please check our website and social media pages for updates about our hours of operation.

The South America aviary after a January snowstorm