Relatively new to our neighborhood is a pair of Mute Swans. Amy and Bill (whose birds, Rico and Kip, were featured in an earlier post, Hatched in the USA!) told me about a small pond just outside of downtown Mason that has become home for the pair. They regularly fly between this pond and the Proctor & Gamble pond, but nest here.
One of the new kids on the block!
I headed over to the pond today at lunch. It was cold. Very cold. So cold that the pond was skimmed with ice and only a 4-5 foot circle of water was open for the pair, but they didn't seem to mind. I did, however! By then end of the shoot my fingers were painfully numb and my face was burning.
Oh, look at me! I'm warm, dry, and gorgeous
even though I'm floating in an icy bath...
I just learned that my cousins, Marianne and Paula, who are also bird lovers, are using Red and the Peanut to help their kids learn about birds, so this post goes out to Marianne, Paula and their kids in Chicago and Detroit! To help everyone learn new things about birds (including myself), I'm adding a section called "Beak Bits" that will introduce little bite-sized bits of bird science.
If a swan is floating in icy water, why doesn't it freeze?
Swans and ducks are lucky. Their feet come equipped with a network of arteries and veins lying very close to each other called a rete mirabile. In Latin, the term means "wonderful net," and it is! Fresh, hot blood flowing from the heart to the feet in arteries (up to 106 degrees F) enters the feet and immediately warms the cold blood returning in veins. Heat is exchanged because the arteries and veins are so close to each other. The warm blood essentially reheats the cold blood preventing body heat from being lost, so the foot never gets cold enough to freeze. Pretty nifty...
Feathers do an important job too, especially the fluffy down feathers on the swan's chest and belly. Feathers, like hair, do not contain blood vessels so body heat is not lost into the environment. Feathers trap warm air near the skin keeping body heat in. There's also a layer of fat in the dermis (just beneath the skin) that provides insulation and can be used for energy during very cold weather (to produce heat) and when food is in short supply.
The water beads up on his feathers and drips right off.
Through preening, birds spread oil from a gland
near the tail over their feathers to create a waterproof barrier.
...and for dessert, I think I'll just poke around in the ice
a little, because my bill doesn't get cold either!
See you later alligator!
There will be a test next Tuesday...
Not! Learning about birds is fun...
no need to stress over a test.