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How our animals stay warm in cold weather

With the recent cold weather and more forecast, we often get asked how our animals stay warm.

There's no real art to keeping our birds and otter family warm; many techniques are down to their own adaptations. But there are some things we do and ways we help to make sure they have everything they need before temperatures drop during those classic Northeast cold spells!

Our Asian short-clawed otter family

Mimi, Musa and Buster are some of WWT Washington's most popular animals, with their charm and charisma entertaining visitors all throughout the year. Naturally, otters have their own adaptations to help them stay warm. They've adapted an air pocket with two layers of fur which helps them retain body heat during the winter months. But our team like to ensure they're as comfortable as possible whether and there's a few things we do to help keep them comfortable:

  • They enjoy a bath! Yes you read that right, we regularly offer our otter family a warm water 'bath', which is the perfect way for them to warm up, interact and generally look adorable (as demonstrated fantastically by Musa!).
  • We heat their holts. Otters - like us humans - do often choose to stay indoors on cold weather days. Their indoor home called a 'holt' is packed with fresh straw and they even have a heater for extra comfort!
  • Our otters are also offered more food to help keep them comfortable and active.

Musa otter in bath 966x635.jpg

Our ducks, geese and swans

Most birds are self-caring and during cold weather will find shelter under vegetation to stay protected from bad weather and cold winds. Birds also have two layers of feathers - soft fluffy down on the surface of the skin covered by hard, vaned feathers on top. The two layers of feathers create an air gap in between - this air gap helps birds to stay warm in winter, holding on to the heat and keeping their temperature higher. But as with all of our animals, there are some extra things our team do to help birds through those cold winter months:

  • We provide additional shelters packed with warm straw to help our birds can stay warm and cosy.
  • Our birds are offered an additional feed at around lunchtime during very cold days, allowing them to increase their energy levels if needed.
  • Some of the birds are moved inside - our magpie geese and white-faced whistling ducks are used to much warmer climates and so their feet and long toes are more susceptible to frostbite. Our team move them to our duckery where they have heated foot pads and heat lamps to help keep them warm and frostbite free!

Bar-headed geese in the snow - 966x635.jpg

Our flamingos

Chilean flamingos are no stranger to the cold. In their native South American homes, these flamingos are used to temperatures fluctuating on an extreme level, making our -8 degrees Celsius of mid-winter actually seem quite toasty. Their long legs can withstand very cold water and you'll often see them tucking one leg into their feathers to reduce the amount of skin touching the water. These long legs keep their bodies out of the water, making sure their internal organs remain warm and protected.

That said, long legs and ice don't mix well and so our flamingos occasionally spend some time indoors where they have heating, UV lamps and lots of fresh water available. Our team will spend time breaking up the ice to allow them access to the outdoors whenever possible.

Image 2- Chilean flamingos - Deborah Nolan 966x635.jpg

Wild cousins

Lets not forgot the birds around our wild reserve. Our reserve team keep supplies of seeds, nuts and fat cakes at Hawthorn Wood hide, The Lookout and at the centre topped up as much as possible to allow those smaller woodland birds the chance to feed and keep up their energy.

On the larger ponds and lakes, plenty of vegetation provides cover for a multitude of wildlife, including birds, weasels and hare. Our reserve is managed in a way that encourages wildlife here, offering natural habitats that will play a vital role in their success.

Jay of feeder winter Ian Henderson 966x635.jpg


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If you've been inspired to explore Washington Wetland Centre this winter, find out more and plan your visit online.

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