Texas Birds and the Freeze

Last week Texas experienced record cold temps throughout the state. At my home it was down to 3 degrees F. I live on the edge of the Balcones Wildlife Preserve in Austin TX. For the past several years I had feeders setup in my backyard and always had several Northern Cardinals come to the feeders, along with finches and sparrows. I’m pretty sure that the cardinals were nesting close to my house since I was providing them with a consistent source of food. During the freeze I was not able to refill the feeders (storage bin was frozen shut) and didn’t have any running water at my home for 5 days to fill the bird bath. Now that the weather has gotten warmer (85 degrees F yesterday) the finches and sparrows have returned but the cardinals have not returned. I’m concerned that they probably didn’t make it. Here is an article concerning this from our local newspaper:



As someone who lives within the San Antonio Area. And was active on iNat during the freeze. I was able to see lots of examples of species affected by the freeze. Both through my own eyes and through the observations of others on iNat. I saw that as you said, species such as the Northern Cardinal where thriving in these frigid temperatures. But the large groups of Cedar Waxwing that had recently migrated into my area where not having as easy of a time. And I saw many of the birds frozen in the snow.

You can add observations of birds that died in the storm in these projects:

We had the usual cardinals, wrens, chickadees, and red-bellied woodpeckers come for suet balls and meal worms. There was no snow near the concrete so the robins, brown thrasher, and hermit thrush were still able to search under leaves there for food. I also saw a couple orange-crowned warblers looking for bugs under the collapsed leaves of our mustard plant.

I put out some dog food (I rarely do this) on the animal trail at the back at the property. I also put some tiny sweet potatoes (from our garden harvest) back there and closer to the house. The squirrels were very happy to have them.


I’m in Georgetown. The local bird feeders were swamped with birds basically the whole time. Even in the middle of the day when there usually aren’t any birds, the feeders were crowded. The cedar waxwings around here were on the berry trees and seemed to be doing OK, though I worried about them some, because the berries they were eating were frozen solid. I don’t know if that cold in their stomachs is bad for them. We only had intermediate power outages, so people were heating water to put in their birdbaths, and we had occasional puddles from the sun melting snow on most of the days. There were lots of extra seeds scattered around for them, including on plates for birds that didn’t like standing on the snow, and plenty of suet. I saw three different species of woodpeckers at the suet feeders, some warblers, and at the seed feeders, a flock of brown-headed cowbirds that I’m told had come in just before the snow. Plus all the usual stuff- cardinals and so on. You can check my observations for then, I photographed almost every bird I saw.

I saw some pipits and a kildeer in a drainage ditch, a couple days in. There was half an inch or so of running water from snowmelt, and they were moving around in it, picking up berries that had fallen from the tree above it. Later, they were still standing in the water. The snow was still soft then, without the layer of ice that it got later, so I think they may just have wanted to not stand in the snow. Everything seemed really reluctant to stand on the snow when it was freshly fallen. I cleared a patch of snow for some local doves that always forage under our bushes, and put down seeds for them.


Thanks for this post.
I am in Corpus Christi, TX and I am trying to raise awareness on 2 topics related to this DEEP FREEZE 2021. I have found several dead animals that froze in this “Big Freeze”.
The two things I am worried about: 1) Hummingbirds 2) Monarch Butterflies.

First: Our plants here in Corpus have been DECIMATED!!! And I am fairly certain the resident Buff-bellied Hummingbird population have had a LARGE DIE OFF!!! I have been outside every day since the Big Freeze…I am hearing NO Hummers!! NONE! I have not seen a Hummer in 6 days! NONE! We have a local population of Buff-bellied Hummers and I worry that they are ALL DEAD!!! All the flowering plants have died back to the ground…It will be a total loss! I worry about the permanent Hummer populations but also the soon to be migrating populations of Ruby-throated Hummers. They will find NO flowering plants to feed on their journey north.

ACTION: We need to raise awareness to all nature organizations and naturalist to put out Hummingbird feeders! And maybe report if they see Buff Bellied Hummers in Nueces County. It would be a good research Project.

Second: The same will happen to the Monarch Butterfly migration. There will be NO FOOD/Blooms! I had a Mexican Love Vine that was in full bloom. I had already seen several Monarchs on my bush. NOW, the entire vine will be cut back to the ground! My Lantana, Bottle Brush, Bulbine, cactus, yucca, citrus trees, mango tree, avocado tree, Bird of Paradise, Trumpet vines, Flame Acanthis, Flame Bush + ALL DEAD to the ground. My milk weed plants will not recover.

ACTION: We need the plant people/Master Gardeners to plant lots of Milkweed seeds now for spring planting later. We need Garden Centers to order more Milkweed to sell to home owners. Notify the Biology/nature people and organizations to help! The seeds need to be planted NOW!

I am NOT an alarmist>>>>But I do believe Hummers and Monarchs will be greatly impacted this spring.

These are just 2 species that need special attention before their migrations. And the Buff-Bellied Hummer population should be investigated to see is there was a large die off.

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I’m sure many birds (and other organisms like lizards) did die in the cold snap, but I’m also pretty sure that they’ll bounce back after a few years. In most cases, these species have evolved to deal with the occasional cold-induced mortality event.

Even more interesting, they continue to do so! In fact, an influential early publication looking at natural selection was based on observations of winter storm-induced mortality in sparrows (though they are invasive). See more info here: https://americanornithology.org/professor-bumpus-and-his-sparrows/ In a similar vein, a recent pub looked at the impacts of the 2013-2014 polar vortex on Texas populations of green anoles and found that they evolved in response to the cold temps.

I know that many anoles (my faves) died in the cold weather (see https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70095708), but I’m confident that the populations will recover in the long run.


I hope you are right, but what if this is no longer an occasional event? Do you think that these species will be able to evolve fast enough to withstand the upcoming environmental changes?

Welcome to the Forum. I had been wondering what was happening to wild life during that time. Thanks.

Welcome to the Forum. Do you think the milkweed plants are dead, or will they regenerate from the roots? Where I live - Winnipeg, N of Minneapolis - the plants come back every year. I’m assuming the ground did not freeze too deeply.


I don’t know about Cedar, but our Bohemian Waxwings are easily eating berries when it’s -30C, they’re used to frozen food.


Hummingbirds can tolerate cold by going into torpor, where they lower their body temperature to reduce energy needs. Normally this is just for overnight, and I don’t know if they can survive for days in a state of torpor.

I am glad you’re raising awareness about people putting out hummingbird feeders. Feeders will be crucial to hummingbirds recovering after a period of torpor.


Monarch populations are in a terrible state already. I wonder If may help for people to put out sliced oranges for them to eat? I seem to recall sliced oranges atop stakes in zoos’ butterfly houses.


It’s a good question. I think it will likely depend on the specific species of course (which isn’t much of an answer).

It’s probably most important for limited range species. Species that move over long distances will have populations that aren’t exposed to local/regional weather events and will be able to repopulate. But many species are surviving in more northern areas or have shown potential for local adaptation (Cedar Waxwings, etc.) so for some it seems pretty reasonable that they’ll be ok at the population level.


Taxonomically …we plant Butterfly Weed (Milkweed family). Monarchs LOVE it. I have hatched out many caterpillars on my properties. Your Milk Weed up north is different. Our milkweed does not like the cold. I don’t know if it will come back. But they will not have time to regenerate a sizable plant for the caterpillars to feed on. They will be stubby small shoots.


Teellbee>> I know Hummers can torpor, but the BIG CHILL was five days+ and when they “woke up” there were NO BLOOMS! Nothing to eat. Even if they went looking for small insects (as they do when feeding chicks) many of those small insects might have froze as well.
I think the Buff Bellied Hummers were expanding their range over the past 10 years+. I think they were becoming more common in back years and bird feeders here in Corpus. I think they were enjoying these years and years of warm winters. And now I think this BIG CHILL has knocked them back/killed them off.

They do that in Canada too.

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As I said above, I do not know if hummers can survive a torpor of several days.

Indeed, as you say… putting out feeders may already be futile. But, I’d do it anyway to help out any chance survivors or the next wave of migrants coming through.

I think you are doing the right thing by urging people in your state do provide an helping hand now by putting out extra food for wild birds: Hummingbird feeders, various types of seed feeders, mealworms, etc. Perhaps there are some Texas Facebook groups for birders that could help you spread the word?

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Many thanks for these acts of kindness. But this is a mere drop in the ocean of climate change. I would ask Texans in general to implore their legislators to stop the denial thing and take this crisis seriously.


I’ve personally seen multiple hummingbirds since the freeze.
So it’s not all bad news.


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