May 22, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 03 February 2011 11:52
“Please keep reminding people to feed the birds!” writes a concerned reader from Ridgefield. “With all the deep snow on the ground they are really having a hard time surviving and more is coming! I fear we will not see the ground until Easter this year!”
I share the discomfort about the snow and often wish I were in the land of flamingos, but I am not sure most of the local birds are as discouraged as the reader and I are.Keep in mind that most of our native year-round birds have been enduring winters in New England for tens of thousands of years. Frankly, 70 inches of snow is nothing to a chickadee, finch, or a titmouse. Many of our local birds range far to the north of us in winter, and endure more annual snow than we do in southern New England.
Most would do just fine if all we bird-feeding folk disappeared. That said, many certainly take advantage of our gifts, and it certainly can’t hurt to provide them.
How do birds find wild food when the ground is covered in a couple feet of snow? One of the chief sources is berries and seeds. You would be surprised at how many berries and grains are still attached to a variety of native — as well as invasive — plants in February. With some berry species, birds seem to wait until midwinter to start eating them — maybe they change flavor with time, or maybe the birds just get more desperate.
Many winter birds cache seeds — just like squirrels — for use in the winter. At this time of year, I often see chickadees, nuthatches and other birds inspecting the ancient shingles of our small “barn.” They are looking for seeds others have cached.
Many of our year-round birds learned to save — not for rainy days, but cold and snowy ones, caching food by stuffing it in the nooks of nature so they will have something to eat at harsh times like these.
Some tight-beaked species, like chickadees, watch over their savings accounts like bank auditors. They patrol the seeds they have stashed in bark, rock fissures or even under roof shingles. If any are missing, they soon replace them. This is pretty amazing accounting — chickadees in frigid northern Canada each stash tens of thousands of seeds over several acres, and know where most are. Talk about bean counters!
There is a lot of food in nature that we humans never see. Trees and shrubs are gigantic meat and dairy markets for many species of birds. The bark is a treasure trove of millions of eggs and overwintering larvae of countless insects. If you see birds working the surface of branches on one of those “bare ruined choirs” of winter, it’s probably gobbling down bug eggs or tiny, frozen pupae. There are even species of caterpillars that spend the winter, frozen on trees, coming back to life in the spring.
Birds need water, of course, and people often wonder where they get it in times like these. There are some brooks still babbling, and spring-fed ponds. However, when unfrozen water is unavailable, birds will simply eat snow instead.
While our longtime natives can easily deal with winters like this, some of our newcomers may be having a tougher time. Carolina Wrens, for instance, have been moving north in recent decades. They spend the nights in roosting cavities near the ground, and can get buried alive by a big snowfall.
William Rossiter of Redding had what he thinks are five Brewer’s Blackbirds on the ground under his feeder last week.
Bo Missinne of Ridgefield enjoyed spotting a Pileated Woodpecker in her backyard the other day.
Raoul Tschebull of Darien reports, “We have a single Brown Thrasher coming to our sunflower hearts tube feeder. He teeters on the feeder perch and manages to get a meal. I’ve never seen one on the feeder before, and it occurs to me that ground feeders like Brown Thrashers are having a hard time because of the unusually heavy snow cover.” This is the very northern fringe of the winter range of Brown Thrashers; most are wise enough to be way down in the South this time of year.
‘EagleFest’ on the Hudson River, eagle watching with warming tents, exhibits, live eagle programs, Saturday, Feb. 5, 9 to 4, Croton Point Park, (914) 762-2912 or www.teatown.org
Great Backyard Bird Count, 13th annual, Feb. 18 to 21, for info, birdsource.org/gbbc
Great Backyard Bird Count, talk and walk, Saturday, Feb. 19, 1 to 2:30 p.m., all ages, Audubon Greenwich, RSVP 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org
“First Sundays,” bird walks open to all ages and skills, at Greenwich Point, with Meredith Sampson, first Sunday of the month, through May, 9 a.m. sponsored by Wild Wings, Inc., Bruce Museum and Audubon Greenwich, 203-637-9822.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
|< Prev||Next >|