If you live in Ohio, or anywhere in the Great Lakes States, you likely feel that this has been a long, cold winter. Well, it has, especially in comparison with winters of the decade past. The above chart shows the average high and low temperatures, and snowfall, of the last ten January's. January is the month that might best be considered as the dead of winter, and we just came through a cold one. The only year that compares is 2009, which had slightly greater snowfall, slightly lower average high temperature, but could not quite match 2014's average low temperature of 13.6 F.
Often one of the first thoughts to pop into an observer's mind is: "why do its feet and legs not freeze"? Ours certainly would. If we were to roll up our pant legs, doff our shoes and socks, and go stand in that stream, it wouldn't take long at all before we'd be suffering severe frostbite/hypothermia.
Miller Road Park. The plant's outflow of warm water keeps open a sizable lead, even when the lake is frozen into a giant block of ice. The birding is often impressive to say the least. Undeterred by the bitter cold and frigid water, the lead teems with waterfowl and gulls.
The ability of gulls and ducks, in particular, to endure water temperatures that would soon kill even the most avid Polar Bear Club swimmers, has always fascinated me. We'll be safely ashore and bundled up in layers of the latest in cold-repellant materials, and still shivering as we gape through optics at frolicking goldeneyes, mergansers, scaup, and gulls.
This is how birds keep from freezing off their extremities, at least in major part. A specialized system of arteries and veins known as the rete mirabile (ree-tee meer-ab-il-ee). The rete mirabile is an intricate meshwork of arteries pumping warm blood fresh from the heart, and veins returning cooler blood back to the heart. The elegant webwork of small veins transfers blood between the two types of conduits, effectively minimizing heat loss and allowing extremities to remain warmer than their surroundings. This system is akin to having an electric blanket sewn under your skin, in a way.
Any way you slice it, the ability of birds to survive, and even thrive, in extended polar temperatures is impressive.