Wednesday, March 05, 2014 • 11:38 AM Comments ()

Duck Boots

posted by Caleb Rounds

I have always been stingy with household climate control. Even when I lived in Texas I kept the air conditioner off. It was partly the expense; I barely had money for Lone Star tallboys back then and I had priorities.

Beyond the money problem I worried about the environment. Using energy you don’t absolutely need is wasteful and creates extra pollution. Climate control also alienates you from the world you live in. Most Texans shuttle from air conditioned home to car to office without spending any time out of doors from May through September or even later. I was young enough to feel indignant about this and just tried to embrace the heat. It is also true I wasn’t above enjoying the air conditioning in my work place or at an establishment that sold, say, Lone Star tallboys.

Now I live in a land that has essentially the opposite problem. From sometime in late November to sometime in March it’s pretty uncomfortable outside. For many folks this means shuttling from one warmed space to another and avoiding any time outside.

I happen to like New England’s arrangement better because with careful clothing choices you can enjoy all sorts of activities outdoors. For instance, there’s shoveling the driveway, scraping the windshield, hauling in loads of wood for the fire, schlepping new water to the chickens because the stuff you put out this morning is frozen, the list of enjoyable pastimes goes on.

The problem is keeping your body’s heat in. We only get cold because our bodies lose heat to the environment. As long as you are well enough insulated, this won’t happen.

A friend in the neighborhood wanted to walk over to our house with her daughter last weekend. Her daughter refused to put on her boots and therefore walked most of the way bare foot. The temperature was well below freezing and as one can imagine the heat exchange from foot to ice-covered sidewalk was not advantageous. She did whine, oh yes she did. The next time she came over she wore boots, even though her mom reminded her to.

When you look out at the ducks and geese on the Connecticut few of them are wearing boots. Presumably this is due to poor spending choices, or maybe they don’t get the L. L. Bean catalog.

It’s more likely that ducks and geese don’t need duck boots as much as the rest of us because they have a clever adaptation in their feet. The arteries that carry warm, oxygen rich blood to the feet are surrounded by cold venous blood returning to the body. The returning blood vessels wrap all around the arteries. This maximizes heat exchange between the arterial and venous blood. Just as the blood enters the feet, heat leaves the arteries and warms the blood coming back to the body. That way the blood in the feet is cold so little heat is lost to the ice the duck is standing on.

Ducks can stand around on ice all day and keep their warmth. They are, essentially, comfortable. That said, I’m sure they wouldn’t turn their beak up to a nice warming shed out on the ice, maybe even with a hot beverage.

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